Shelby County combats stigma in rural Iowa
The Shelby County Wellness Alliance is making efforts to share the Make It OK message with their community. During the month of October, the local wellness coalition used social media, radio, newspaper and virtual meetings to start conversations and increase understanding about mental illness.
"We know across the world that stigma is a huge barrier for getting timely treatment for mental illness," said Katie Sandquist, a therapist at Myrtue Behavioral Health in Harlan and member of the Shelby County Wellness Alliance. "I see that being even more prominent in rural communities where there is pride in resilience and hard work."
Shelby County is located in western Iowa and has a county-wide population of 12,167. Sandquist said the "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality that is common in rural Iowa can prevent those struggling from seeking help when they need it. To help combat stigma, more than 50 Make It OK ambassadors were trained in Shelby County this year through virtual trainings.
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To help spread the message about Make It OK in October, Sandquist and other coalition members partnered with Harlan Newspapers and KNOD radio to run weekly features on understanding mental health and combatting stigma. Two community-wide Make It OK presentations were held (with both in-person and virtual attendance options) and Sandquist also shared weekly videos and tips on the Shelby County Wellness Alliance Facebook page.
"We really tried to saturate our small town market with the same message every week," said Sandquist.
The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce also encouraged local workplaces to sign-up as Make It OK Registered Workplaces and they were able to increase the county-wide total from two to 10 workplaces during October.
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The Harlan Library also created a display of books that covered mental health topics or featured characters with a mental illness.
"We had one person reach out and say they started therapy (after seeing the Make It OK messaging)," said Sandquist. "That really encourages me that someone is starting their own journey with treatment."
The Shelby County Wellness Alliance works to align their goals with the county health improvement plan based on feedback from the county health needs assessment. In recent years, mental health and substance abuse have topped the list of priorities for the county.
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"Our community is saying 'help us' and we have the tools to do that," said Sandquist. "Make It OK is a great way to start conversations and ultimately point people to help."
The Shelby County Wellness Alliance had originally planned their Make It OK messaging to be distributed in May but COVID-19 forced them to delay programming until the fall. Going forward, Sandquist said the coalition will continue to promote Make It OK each May during Mental Health Awareness Month.
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.