Mental Health Matters celebrates initiatives underway and those yet to come – The Republic News

Mike Wolanin | Rep. Cheryl Buffo, Columbus Regional Health’s community health program manager, addresses community members during the annual Mental Health Matters in the Community report at The Commons in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, 30 April 2024.

In Mark Stewart’s role as president of United Way of Bartholomew County, he’s seen residents already struggle with the tax evasion of mental illness when trying to locate much-needed resources like housing.

They often don’t know where to start, which worsens their mental state.

So the agency that reaches nearly a third of the local population with its programs will launch a new website on June 1 called United We Help.

It’s one of several new initiatives promoting and supporting mental health announced Tuesday at the annual Mental Health Matters meeting at The Commons in downtown Columbus in front of about 300 people.

Poor mental health is often amplified when we can’t meet our most basic needs, Stewart said. It’s a tough place to be.

The local Mental Health Matters team looked back at its launch last year and celebrated a number of other new and ongoing programs that aim to start strengthening the mental health of local residents. The timing of the meeting was intentional as May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.

A total of 26 percent of Bartholomew County residents experience fair or poor mental health compared to 13 percent nationally, according to figures from Mental Health Matters leaders.

Mental Health Matters is a community-wide health initiative to address the challenges and improve the mental health system for youth and adults in Bartholomew County, where an estimated 6% of the population of 83,000 citizens live with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or another diagnosis that can be debilitating. And half of that 6 percent group is unaware of their disease, according to local estimates.

A total of 17 percent of local residents have what is called a non-serious mental illness such as anxiety or depression.

Ten percent of children in Bartholomew County have non-severe mental illnesses, meaning mental health problems severe enough to affect their functioning at home, school or in the community.

The initiative team works with almost every agency and organization imaginable, from social services to the arts, to help foster inclusive and equitable solutions, while promoting the understanding that mental health is part of overall health.

Cheryl Buffo, project manager for Mental Health Matters, told the crowd that she, like many others, is learning as she goes.

That’s something that was a big moment for me: Serious mental illnesses can’t be prevented and they can’t be cured, but they can be treated, and that’s really key, Buffo said. Therefore, if we can provide people with early intervention, treatment and support, people with serious mental illness can lead healthy and well-functioning lives.

Jim Bickel, president and CEO of Columbus Regional Health which donated $1.2 million to Mental Health Matters’ work, touted some of the hospital entities’ long-term and recent mental health successes.

Columbus Regional Health has been the only inpatient crisis center for adults in our community for more than three decades, a time when many other facilities closed their doors, Bickel said. And most recently, Columbus Regional Healths Adult Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit was recognized as the top rated facility in the nation for patient and family satisfaction.

Then the applause of the crowd.

Jim Roberts, superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., mentioned that a family engagement coordinator has been hired and will soon partner with the Cook Center to provide resources for parents through the website that it will go live in a few weeks.

He said it can help relieve stress on families.

I know (for some families), things get crazy one evening and suddenly they’re looking for answers, Roberts said. They are not sure where to find these answers, but has thousands of resources on how you can gather information and find a contact person to talk to for information.

Other local leaders spoke briefly about their recent achievements and initiatives planned for the coming year. They were Mayor Mary Ferdon; Eric Frey, Executive Director of Administration for the City of Columbus; Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop; Judge Jim Worton, Superior Court 1; and Suzanne Koesel, CEO of Centerstone of Indiana.

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Resources, statistics and more can be found at

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