FAIRMONT – Last week was National Mental Illness Awareness Week and during the week clubs affiliated with the South Central Community Based Initiative (SCCBI) promoted a range of daily activities aimed at improving well- mental being and awareness of mental disorders. diseases. This included Upward Bound 5th Street Express, a walk-in resource center in Fairmont for adults struggling with mental illness.
Alex Langsjoen, Regional Director of Health at SCCBI, and Darek Olson, Coordinator of the Upward Bound Clubhouse, highlighted the importance of recognizing mental illness in order to treat it effectively.
“It’s normal to ask for help because there are people everywhere; there are neighbours, there are family members and there are friends,” said Langsjoen.
“Mental health… affects everyone to one degree or another; some people are affected more than others, and there are things we can do to improve our mental health and make life easier for people who suffer from different forms of mental illness,” says Olson.
According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults lives with a mental illness and 5.6% of adults suffer from a serious mental illness resulting in severe functional impairments.
“It’s like a physical disability; they’re not defined by that, you’re not defined by your ability or inability to do something,” said Langsjoen.
At Upward Bound, Olson strives to connect people struggling with illness with appropriate support, both inside and outside the organization. Upward Bound offers people struggling with mental illness a place to meet others struggling with similar challenges and participate in programs that can improve their well-being.
“People know they can come and it’s a safe place to get help,” says Olson.
“It’s better than sitting at home and living and thinking about things. If we come here, we can do things to take our minds off things for a while,” said Upward Bound member Gloria Olson.
Most of the activities Upward Bound organized for Mental Illness Awareness Week focused on a different area of personal well-being, such as exercising regularly or decluttering your workspace.
“These are things everyone should be doing, but it’s a way of targeting one specific thing to tackle each day to help improve their long-term mental health,” says Olson.
Other activities on Upward Bound’s October calendar include game nights, crafts and a shopping spree in Mankato. In addition to these activities, Upward Bound provides its members with other resources such as computers and a recreation room.
“There are several members who, before coming to the development center, did not have many friends, but they were able to make friends and build a support system”, says Olson.
When someone seeks help with mental health, Langsjoen recommends first contacting health agencies in their county.
“These are the statewide mental health authorities of Minnesota. They are a safety net for people who cannot find care or coverage,” said Langsjoen.
If county health agencies cannot provide appropriate assistance to people struggling with mental illness, they can refer them to organizations that can.