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Out of the shadows

Mental health report serves as a call to action


Nobody wants to talk about depression or stress. They’re too depressing and stressful.

Besides, compared to other medical problems, they’re kind of invisible. But along with other behavioral health problems such as addictions, depression and stress deserve a lot more of our region’s attention.

“Behavioral health and wellness has really been under the radar,” says Marcia Haaff, CEO of the Lutheran Foundation. But a major study funded by the foundation draws the problems out of the shadows. Among the findings:

• Most northeast Indiana residents who told study surveyors they have symptoms of mental or behavioral problems never get professional help.

• Many people who do want help with such problems have no idea how to get it. Haaff wants to see a regional campaign to get physicians the information they need. “Many family-practice physicians prescribe because they don’t know where to send people for care,” she says.

• The stigma of seeking treatment for mental health problems is a “key and universal barrier” to getting help. Respondents to the study’s surveys often cited the difficulty of talking with employers about getting paid or unpaid time off work for mental and behavioral treatment.

“It somehow gets viewed as a character flaw,” says Paul Wilson, president and CEO of Park Center, who strongly commends Lutheran’s study.

• Traditional protective factors for those with potential problems are “fraying,” the report found. In most of the 10 counties surveyed, more than half the respondents did not identify with a church or religion.

• Schools in northeast Indiana’s non-urban counties are seen as the “front doors” to getting help. “Schools, however, report being ill-equipped to deal with mental and behavioral health issues and capable of, if anything, little more than making referrals.”

• Those who do seek and receive therapy often don’t stay with it. “There’s a problem of sustaining care for a sufficient time to get the help that they need,” Haaff says.

Like the problems it highlights, the foundation’s study has been a bit under the radar so far. The report got little attention when it was rolled out in February. But Wilson, for one, thinks the efforts it points toward will be a key to a better quality of life for people in the region.

He points out that dealing more forthrightly with behavioral health issues makes good economic sense.

Of the money spent on health care, Wilson says, “behavioral health gets about 5 percent, and that is shrinking,”

But “these are issues that drive our health care costs overall.”

“Sustained, chronic stress is bad for us in a variety of ways,” he says, citing its effect on blood pressure as one example.

Though the exactinterworkings are hard to pin down, it’s clear that a number of chronic diseases carry what he calls a 50-percent premium if they’re combined with depression.

The immune system and your body’s ability to fight back against disease are directly affected, Wilson says.

Some findings of the study mirror national statistics, though the foundation was surprised to find that, “contrary to the stereotypes,” our non-urban counties may have even less of a traditional support system than more-urban Allen County.

Haaff says she is working now to bring leaders from throughout Northeast Indiana together to help “adopt a funding strategy that emphasizes collaborative effort.”

Anyone who cares about our quality of life should read Lutheran’s detailed portrait of some hard-to-grasp problems. It’s at Lutheran’s web site,