Nancy Vaughan column: Improving mental health is key to improving community

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May 27, 2018| For the Herald Bulletin
Madison County achieved a dubious distinction with the release of the 2018 County Health Rankings — last place in the category “quality of life,” which includes the average number of people in poor or fair health, percent of low birthweight babies and number of poor physical and mental health days. Ironically, we rank 27 of 92 counties for clinical care and 56 for physical environment. Our downfall lies in health behaviors, social and economic factors.
Mental health issues have been a growing topic of discussion among social service providers, leading to the formation of a Mental Health Coalition. United Way’s THRIVE Network partners have struggled to assist people with employment and financial stability in the face of untreated mental health conditions. Increased work requirements for “able-bodied” adults to access childcare, health insurance and possibly food assistance as proposed in the Federal Farm Bill add to this dilemma.
Madison County has fewer primary care physicians and mental health care providers than state and national averages; however, we have very good rankings for diabetes monitoring and mammography screening — two health issues that have been the focus of high levels of public outreach efforts. That indicates that it is possible to improve statistics when we come together to act.
One hopeful report came last week from United Way’s partner FamilyWize, a national organization that provides prescription savings through access to a discount card that is accepted by most pharmacies ( Through our partnership, Madison County residents have saved $2.6 million on medications, with 31.4 percent of the savings — $770,712 — going toward mental health prescriptions.
Mental health medications were the highest category for Madison County, with assistance to 6,966 people, who saved an average of 39 percent on medications. Nationally, one in six adults are affected by mental health conditions, and more than half do not receive treatment. Adherence to treatment, including regular medications, can be the essential ingredient to achieving long-term stability that includes employment and stable relationships.
Madison County struggles economically, with 25 percent of children living in poverty and unemployment at 5 percent — well above state and national levels. Efforts to enroll everyone in health insurance, including the Healthy Indiana Plan and Federal Marketplace, have reduced the number of uninsured.
We also lag in a category called “social associations,” an indicator for emotional well-being. As a community, we can all participate in helping our most vulnerable citizens by volunteering and supporting community activities and services. A common theme from the many conversations United Way has hosted across the community is that stigma associated with an issue creates barriers to improvement. It’s far too easy to assume that those who struggle with mental health issues and also with substance abuse issues, which are often related, are to blame for their problems.
One of the components of the Affordable Care Act is inclusion of mental health treatment. As our nation continues to struggle with health care affordability, and political factions chip away at more holistic solutions, United Way will continue to advocate for access to affordable care and essential safety net services that open doors for all people to THRIVE.