Ending the stigma
Local organization supports those with mental illnesses
Although Mental Health Awareness Month is May, the Mental Health Association in Morgan County advocates for mental health awareness and education every day. While the organization does not treat mental illnesses, it offers a variety of services to help support individuals who deal with them.
Susan Claborn, executive director at the Mental Health Association, said the programs they offer focus on educating, supporting and advocating for mental health care.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many people are impacted by mental health,” Claborn pointed out. “It’s one in five people; one in five people are going to experience some type of mental health issue every year. You don’t really realize how many people that impacts.”
The association offers a variety of support groups, sexual assault support, sexual assault education, monthly social events for those with mental illnesses and more.
“What we are trying to do is educate people on the fact that a mental illness is no different than a physical illness,” Claborn explained. “It can be treated. Just like we have medication for diabetes, heart problems and allergies, we have medications and coping tools and dietary tools for depression and anxiety.”
Claborn said the support groups are an important outlet for those who deal with mental illness each day – and she is seeing growth in the community’s interest in these groups. The Alzheimer’s support group, for example, has expanded to meet in two locations. The depression support group has seen increased attendance from younger men – a particular highlight for Claborn.
“I have been amazed at the number of men and young men that have been coming to the program,” she said. “These are men from early 20s to late 30s. I think that says a lot about the strides we are making in mental health. The stigma is that it is very hard for a man to do that. I think it says a lot that that’s where we see the growth. The comment I hear them make is that the group helps keep them accountable.”
In addition to the support groups, the Mental Health Association in Morgan County has a sexual assault prevention and education program that goes into all the schools in Morgan County and neighboring counties.
Claborn said the schools program covers everything from preventing bullying to recognizing sexual assault. The lessons are typically taught to seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders and helps provide resources to the students if they encounter sexual assault in their lives.
“In the schools it is still kind of shocking to hear about students that will come forward about a sexual assault they have experienced,” Claborn said. “As difficult as that is, there is so much that can be done that can help them when you address those things younger. So as difficult as it is, it is always a blessing to be there and to encourage kids to go ahead and talk and do something that is going to help.”
Claborn said the association also has a sexual assault line that is open 24/7 to help those in crisis. The line includes help with what to do next and offers community resources.
Another program the association offers is the friendship house, which is a social gathering place for individuals with a mental health diagnosis. In addition to a monthly meeting with food and discussion, the program hosts a Christmas event for the participants that includes a party and presents.
“When you are talking about adults, they might not have family any longer around them. For some of them, this is the only Christmas that they get,” Claborn said.
The Mental Health Association also offers a variety of medication assistance resources and Alzheimer’s care supply programs for those in need.
Claborn said one thing she wants people to understand is that a mental health diagnosis does not have to be the end of their story. In their meeting room, the association boasts a large painting of famous individuals with a mental illness.
“Having depression or bi-polar (disorder) – it’s not a life-ending kind of diagnosis,” Claborn said. “You may make adjustments, just like any diagnosis. There are a lot of pros and cons of mental illnesses. As you can see on the wall, there are many important people that have bi-polar depression because it lends itself to a different way of thinking. There are a lot of pros to it. Understanding your illness and growing with your illness helps stabilize (you); it makes (you) stronger in who (you) are.”
The Mental Health Association of Morgan County is supported largely through grants and donations. Claborn said people who are interested in helping the organization can make donations through the United Way or directly through the association’s website.
People can also support the association, Claborn added, through sharing content on social media and praying for the staff and clients.