Healthy Communities turns to mental health concerns

Columbus Regional Hospital’s Healthy Communities initiative is turning its attention to mental health issues in the community.

The program’s new co-chairs, Mary Ferdon and Dr. Brian Niedbalski say that for the next two years, the initiative will attempt to stem the local suicide rate and reduce the stigma of mental health issues. Ferdon and Niedbalski too over as co-chairs in January and will serve two-year terms.

Ferdon said that the strength of the Healthy Communities involvement is that it brings so many local groups together to tackle a problem. The coalition includes the city, county, school districts as well as law enforcement and the courts.

Ferdon said that one of the goals will be to identify where the needs lie in the local mental health system.

“The last thing we want to see is somebody immediately just go to jail or to be bounced around between the emergency room and the law and the court system,” Ferdon said. “Access is first and foremost, I think. One of the goals we have is needing to map what we have. And then, as a group, as a community, we need to decide what works best for Columbus and for Bartholomew County.”

Beth Morris, with Healthy Communities, says that a needs assessment last year showed that members of the community sees mental health as their top health concern.

“The more people understand the basis of mental health issues, the less likely they are to stigmatize someone who has those problems,” Morris said. “We really do want to increase the community understanding of what causes mental illness and how to respond appropriately when you run into someone who might be struggling with mental health issues.”

Among the efforts will be a first aid course for mental health problems focused on those who are not professionals in the medical field.

A part-time person will also be hired to help guide the efforts of the Healthy Community coalition’s new direction.