Discussing and breaking down the stigma around mental health is a big job. It is one that requires community involvement and local action from our registered Make It OK Ambassadors. One ambassador, Katie Sandquist, takes community involvement to a new level.
As a Behavioral Health Therapist at Myrtue Behavioral Health in Harlan, her career is already intimately related to mental health. However, her work to fight the stigma around mental illness in Iowa doesn’t stop with her patient work. Katie has identified gaps in the mental health services provided in her community as well as opportunities to reach new demographics to spread the message of Make It OK across Southwest Iowa.
As part of the Shelby County Wellness Alliance, Katie is spreading the Make It OK message to every demographic in her community. The Wellness Alliance is made up of various community members and organizations including local businesses, school officials, religious leaders, and government officials. With their combined resources and reach, the alliance is able to discuss and spread awareness around mental health to a diverse and large audience.
With this reach, Katie is able to participate in a massive amount of community outreach both in her clinic and beyond her patient work in her career. When the therapists at Myrtue Behavioral Health had a long waiting list, Katie worked with her team to create a walk-in group for those on the waitlist focused on stress and mindfulness. This group allows those who are waiting for an individual spot with a therapist to still get face to face help in a group setting.
To reach the community at large, Katie worked with the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to run a local Make It OK community workshops at a nearby community college. She also helped create advertisements and news stories for radio and newspapers highlighting local mental support and treatment, in the hopes of reaching the older population in her area, one that is traditionally more ingrained in the stigma around mental illness.
“We want to bridge and normalize that we all need help,” Katie said.
She doesn’t stop there. To get mental health care and messaging to moms, the Wellness Alliance has partnered with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) to put on free yoga workshops. For local children, mental health awareness t-shirts were provided to schools for the students to wear on May 20th for Wear Green for Make It OK Day. To target working adults, Katie goes to local businesses over their lunch hour for brain break sessions and provides information about clinical help. Finally, to target a younger audience, she helps create social media content and videos to spread the message digitally.
Through her connections with the Shelby County Wellness Alliance and their messaging around the pillars of eat well, move more, and feel better, Katie has the support system to reach this far into her community. She said others can do work that’s just important with their loved ones and friends however.
“Use the relationships that are already safe and supportive in your life,” Katie explains. “Talk about your lived experience. You don’t have to recite a Make It OK Presentation to your friends every time.”
Spreading the message about mental health is important, and while not everyone has the reach, career experience, and organizations around them to participate in the discussion like Katie does, simply being authentic and talking about mental health like you would any other topic goes a long way in normalizing and demystifying mental health to your community at large.
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