October 5, 2022

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Monday ‘picnic’ focuses on mental health as Henry County Mental Health Alliance reaches out

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What better place to share than a picnic?

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Members of the Henry County Mental Health Alliance are counting on that as they plan a community picnic next week to connect people who have experienced issues in their lives related to mental illness.

“No one is immune,” said Beth Looney, behavioral health navigator for OSF HealthCare. “Mental illness includes friends, family and co-workers and sometimes we may not even realize it.”

The picnic, scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, May 23, is an outreach effort by local mental health organizations brought together through the National Alliance on Mental Health, which has helped provide local training on identifying and navigating mental health issues.

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Looney said the Alliance settled on the picnic idea to further recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month because it’s a comfortable, outside setting that will make sharing sometimes uncomfortable stories easier. The picnic, which includes a dessert, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Windmont Park in partnership with the Kewanee Park District.

She said the idea is for people to show up with their sack lunches and discuss ways that mental illness has touched their lives. Tips on how to navigate mental illness and where to get local services will also be offered.

“We don’t have to solve the problem,” Looney said, “but as a human being, it is our job to help get that person connected to a professional. The first thing is to just listen to that person talk without feeling like you need to provide answers.”

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She said it’s as easy as just reaching out as a friend to someone who appears to be struggling.

“You may be the only person who asked that question,” she said. “People don’t often share their struggles and feel it’s a sign of weakness.”

She said the picnic as an opportunity for anyone who has dealt with these issues to break the stigma and share information that make help others experiencing the same thing.

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The local Alliance, in partnership with NAMH, has provided ongoing local training sessions in the last few years for law enforcement members and students, who bring back the training to their groups to share with others. It also holds group discussions at 6 p.m. every third Tuesday of the Month. It’s part of a coordinated effort to not only raise awareness, but give area residents real tools to deal with real issues.

“In the last couple of years, we’re seen increased loneliness and isolation,” she said. “It’s not just about teaching resilience for now, but teaching resilience for life. It’s important our community starts at the grass roots and provide training to all people in the community.”

The Alliance has put together a “helpline” resource that has crisis agency numbers listed together. It includes resources on addiction, for veterans and for anyone struggling with life.

Resources for counseling continue to be a challenge, but Looney said that the opportunities are increasing. There are health department resources, OSF provides transportation for its services, and a growing number of therapists are accepting state Medicaid and private insurance.

Looney said there are services available for low-income people that didn’t exist in the past.

“Don’t let money hinder you from getting the help you need,” she said. “We can see what we can do to help you make that connection happen.”

This article originally appeared on Star Courier: Monday ‘picnic’ in Kewanee focuses on local mental health

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