News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 10, 2013

Wabash Valley groups working together on mental health issues

TERRE HAUTE — Hamilton Center and other community groups are working together to bring mental health issues “out of the shadows.”

They hope to raise awareness about mental health problems and eliminate any stigma that may exist.

Another goal is to provide training to individuals in the various groups so they can identify people with mental health issues, support them and guide them toward appropriate professional help.

Hamilton Center and representatives of the various agencies conducted a news conference Tuesday to talk about their efforts and plans.

“Our goal here is to make sure our community is not another Sandy Hook,” said Mel Burks, Hamilton Center CEO. The community group has met several times, and the plan being developed is titled,  “Bringing Mental Health Out of the Shadows.”

One part of the community’s response to Sandy Hook was placing security officers in Vigo County schools. Another important piece is the mental health component, Burks said.

Those participating in the news conference included representatives of law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, religious leaders, Vigo County School Corp. and Terre Haute City Council.

“I think it’s vitally important we get our churches involved,” Burks said. The next step involves meeting with religious leaders to add their perspective to the plan.

Another major component involves “Mental Health First Aid.” One Hamilton Center staff member has received five days of training, and at least two other staff members will as well.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a 12-hour course that teaches people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and how to provide initial aid before guiding a person toward appropriate professional help.

As early as next month, those Hamilton Center staff trained in MHFA will provide training to individuals in the various community groups. That could include police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, teachers, social/professional organizations, religious groups and others.

Other goals, according to the draft plan, are to expand an online presence to create more awareness, information and education about mental health issues.

Hamilton Center also will look for other opportunities to raise awareness, including presentations to various groups.

One in four adults and 10 percent of children in the United States will suffer from a mental heath illness this year, according to information provided by Hamilton Center.

Among those speaking at the news conference was Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt. “I hope we will all follow through with this [plan] as community leaders and let’s see if we can make a difference,” he said.

Modesitt said that in his work with the court system, he often deals with defendants and others who suffer from mental health problems.

Sheriff Greg Ewing noted that in mass shootings such as at Sandy Hook, there typically is “some type of mental illness lingering in the background that caused this person to commit these types of acts or crimes.”

There are about 300 people in the Vigo County jail, and in some cases, mental illness led to the crimes they commit, he said. “That is not the place for those people,” he said.

He believes the most important message to get out to the community is that “people need no longer be ashamed of mental illness,” Ewing said. “It’s okay. It’s okay to go get that help.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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