A followup to March's Community Conversation

In late March, more than 300 attendees joined together at Blue Harbor to talk openly and honestly about mental health and alcohol and other drug abuse in our community. Participants at this Community Conversation represented all walks of life and sectors including areas of local law enforcement, social services/human services, legislature, education, businesses, nonprofits, health care providers, and of course families and consumers.

To my knowledge, these participants attended because in one way or another they are (or have been)impacted by our mental health and alcohol/drug abuse services; either professionally, personally, or very likely both.

The overall objectives of the day were to:

• Identify three to five community priorities to improve mental health and alcohol and drug abuse systems in Sheboygan County.

• Encourage community involvement through recruitment of action team members to move priorities forward.

• Move in a direction to create good mental health in our community.

The event incorporated presentations on local and state data, personal stories of recovery and heartbreak when our system failed, and the core of the day: small group table discussions. These discussions were guided by five focus questions that covered why good mental health is important, what is working in our community, barriers, and gaps/missing services related to mental health and alcohol and other drug abuse. The close of the day focused on action planning and how to build on our strengths.

These questions carefully guided conversations and supported the discovery of community priorities through a nominal/dot voting process. The summary paper prepared by the day’s facilitator, Lilly Irvin-Vitela, and edited by the Planning Committee, as well as the Planning Committee’s follow up report is now available on Mental Health America in Sheboygan County’s website at mhasheboygan.org. The summary paper and report are a reflection of the day and the next steps to come to address the overall top three identified priority areas: access, education and coordination of care.

The day was clearly a success but that is only the beginning. Now the real work starts with Community Action teams. We anticipate involvement from established committees such as Healthy Sheboygan County 2020’s Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, and Health Literacy Committees to name a few and newly formed committees that will help address our community’s needs.

With the World Health Organization stating that mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it is evident our community needs to make mental health and alcohol/drug abuse services, education, access, and prevention a priority. Through evaluation feedback, more than 58 percent of those present have committed to wanting to continue to be a part of this journey.

Want to get involved? Email info@mhahsheboygan.org or call 920-458-3951 to learn about what you can do to take a stand and move priorities forward. On behalf of the Community Conversation About Mental Health and Alcohol/Drug Abuse Planning Committee, thank you to those who participated and for future participation. We are grateful and recognize that community conversations lead to community solutions.

—Kate Baer is the executive director for Mental Health America in Sheboygan County and member of Healthy Sheboygan County 2020 Mental Health Committee.