by Angela Jones
To mark 60 years of service to the community, Mental Health America of Dubuque County (MHA), following a tradition of inviting nationally noted speakers to Dubuque, will host Kevin Hines, a suicide survivor who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to tell his story. While suicide is a tough topic, it is essential to discuss in order to understand, and ultimately prevent, the underlying issues that lead to it.
Too often, it’s easy to ignore self-care or seeking help when it’s needed because of the busy pace of our lives, and because of the negative stigma that “mental illness” receives. Our mental health can include everything from the innumerable ways we take care of ourselves each day to the countless ways we live with (or respond to) such crises as suicide, severe anxiety, and depression.
Sue Whitty, president of the MHA Board of Directors, says, “We all live with varying degrees of mental health.”
The 12-person MHA board, with its 250 members, follows the same mission statement today as when it was originally founded in 1957: “To enhance the mental health of the Dubuque community through education, collaboration, advocacy, legislative efforts, and the promotion of research.”
“MHA is not flashy,” Whitty said. “We are not the ones on stage; rather, we work behind the scenes to extend the conversation, to research and to advocate in ways the community needs. It’s about collaboration and vision. We want to increase access and fill gaps, and we advocate for legislation and mental health-friendly bills.”
For example, the organization helped to lobby the city to extend route times for the Jule, Dubuque’s transit service, and it hosts a booth at the annual KIDS Expo to help children learn about their emotions. Last year, MHA consulted with and assisted the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque as the foundation prepared a Community Needs Assessment regarding mental health services.
Rather than focus on specific providers or individual consumers, MHA considers the entire community and the whole range of mental health issues. Early in its history, under the leadership of the late Reverend Monsignor Timothy J. Gannon, MHA played an instrumental role in incorporating mental health education in Dubuque’s schools. The organization also advocated for training and support of school counselors and mental health programs, and provided leadership in mental health initiatives at both the state and national levels. Their involvement in the establishment of the first Mental Health Center of Dubuque County (later called the Gannon Center for Community Mental Health) is considered by many to be one of the most important projects MHA has ever undertaken.
While it’s vital to tackle specific tasks, like legislation that is mental health “friendly,” it’s also necessary to locate and work on underlying issues, too. Matthew Zanger, vice president of the MHA Board, stated, “We support various agencies and organizations in meeting the needs of the community, but we also want to prevent mental health challenges from developing, or worsening, by providing education and an awareness for cultural change.”
Because mental health challenges run such a wide gamut, there are numerous approaches to prevention—and they all start with awareness. “Conversations about mental health have a snowball effect,” Whitty said. “As it is being talked about, it gains momentum.”
And, hopefully, there doesn’t always need to be a crisis or tragedy for people to speak up or to learn more. “People are recognizing that we have to confront the reality and horror that is suicide,” Zanger said. “And that there are positive things that come from this. For example, people are becoming more aware of how to support someone whose mental health is challenged.”
While their organizational mission remains the same, and the challenges and opportunities of mental health seem to repeat, the initiatives and projects that the group takes on are diverse. During the 1960s, the focus was on child and adolescent mental health issues while the 1970s saw the creation of a manual used to train law enforcement professionals. In 2001, MHA sponsored a seminar on the mentally ill in the criminal justice system and the following year became an important partner in the Jail Diversion program which, despite the ending of federal funds, continues to this day. Together with other mental health advocates and legislators, MHA also assists with the struggle for health insurance parity, keeping alive a dream of the original founders.
It seems fitting, then, that MHA, with generous support by a grant from the Dubuque Racing Association, wants to honor its 60th anniversary by confronting the difficult topic of suicide and honoring community members who have contributed to advancing the cause. It is a way to promote prevention and awareness, which brings with it the “what and how” of addressing mental health challenges. The late Ann Mikulski, a former MHA president and member of the Dubuque City Council, encouraged the community to maintain an optimistic view regarding the future of mental health while never forgetting its tragic and sometimes barbaric past.
Kevin Hines will bring that optimism with his inspirational message and MHA will affirm their ongoing message: there is always hope.
Mathew Zanger contributed historical information for this article.
Kevin Hines is the author of “Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt,” a memoir that shares the story of his mental health crisis and recovery. He will be speaking at MHA’s 60th anniversary event at the Grand River Center on October 27, 2017. Registration for one or more activities is at www.mhadbq.org.
Cracked, Not Broken
Schedule of Events
Grand River Center
Friday, October 27
2:30-3:00 PM Registration for Workshops – 2nd floor Lobby near Ballrooms
3:00-4:00 PM Workshop I: The Art of Wellness
4:00-5:00 PM Workshop II: Caregiver Strategies
5:00-5:45 PM Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres & conversation (cash bar) 2nd Floor Ballroom Foyer
5:45-6:45 PM Dinner & Dessert – 2nd Floor Ballroom
6:45-7:00 PM Welcome, Remarks & Community Awards – Sue Whitty, MHA President – 2nd Floor Ballroom
7:00-8:00 PM Keynote Address: Kevin Hines with Questions and Answers – 2nd Floor Ballroom
8:15-11:00 PM Entertainment – Enjoy coffee, desserts and conversation while listening to talented local musicians in the 2nd Floor Ballroom