7 Ways You Can Help

These organizations are saving lives. Here’s how to contribute to their work.

Writer: Karla Walsh

Anxiety. Depression. Bipolar. Eating disorders. PTSD. While we all would like to think these don’t hit close to home, the truth is 1 in 5 Iowa adults live with some sort of mental illness, according to NAMI Iowa. So that means most families are managing a mental illness in some way (or attempting to live with it without receiving treatment).

“There’s definitely people that realize we have a challenge in the state of Iowa, but a lot of people don’t recognize it’s in their neighborhood or workplace,” says Jami Haberl, executive director of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative. “The behaviors might fly under the radar. A lot of Iowans still don’t quite believe it’s real.”

And that 1 in 5 statistic might actually be low now, due to the uncertainty and isolation caused by the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is having an impact on each and every Iowan, even if they haven’t been affected by the virus directly. It’s changed our lifestyle and the way we function. Isolation is a huge concern—it’s worse for overall well-being than smoking, some studies have found,” Haberl says, and relates this to what she’s seen working on the Healthiest State Initiative’s Make It OK mental health program.

Here are seven easy ways you can support the life-saving missions of organizations that offer services for Iowans who may be facing mental health challenges.

1. Advocate with United Way of Central Iowa.

Join the organization’s efforts to advocate for mental health-related resources in Iowa and nationwide. United Way supports causes related to education, income and health through funding, legislative support and more. Under the health umbrella, a major focus is reaching out to local, state and national leaders to advocate for systemic changes that improve the well-being of residents. A recent effort is funding the Children’s Behavioral Health System with the Coalition to Advance Mental Health in Iowa for Kids. Visit unitedwaydm.org/advocate to learn about their efforts and to discover how to contact government officials about making mental health resources a priority.

2. Pledge to “Stop the Silence.”

It takes just 30 seconds to help stop the stigma around mental health in Iowa through Make It OK, a Healthiest State Initiative program. Search “Make It OK Iowa” to confirm you’ll make a concerted effort to learn more about mental illness, including how to talk about it to make those affected by these conditions feel less alone. As of press time, more than 16,800 Iowans had pledged to combat the stigma in their corner of the world.

3. Take a NAMI Greater Des Moines course.

This local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers 27 community education courses at little or no cost to participants on topics such as schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, effective communication during difficult times, and the science of mental illness. Each class focuses on practical tips for dealing with mental wellness, helping loved ones during their recovery, and more. See the winter and spring 2021 options under “Community Education Classes” at namigdm.org.

4. Volunteer at Orchard Place.

In 2019, more than 8,600 Iowa kids, adolescents and young adults with mental health, substance abuse, educational and juvenile justice obstacles were helped by this Des Moines nonprofit. Orchard Place’s goal is to help the most emotionally challenged youths take steps toward a promising future. While many events and fundraisers were put on pause during the pandemic, you can still sign up to be an event volunteer or mentor with Orchard Place when they reinstate fundraising events and gatherings. To learn more, visit orchardplace.org/get-involved/volunteer.

5. Become a “Mental Health First Aider.”

“The root of most stigmas is generally fear,” according to the team at the Iowa Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Disability Services. Through the organization’s eight-hour interactive course, called “Mental Health First Aid USA,” you can become a certified “Mental Health First Aider” and learn a five-step action plan to give you the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate care. Email Karen Hyatt (khyatt@dhs.state.ia.us) or Laura Larkin (llarkin@dhs.state.ia.us) at the Iowa Department of Human Services to inquire about upcoming classes.

6. Be a social media ambassador.

Since 1972, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center has provided support for uninsured and underinsured Iowans by offering counseling for kids, adolescents, adults, couples, families, clergy, teachers, police officers, LGBTQ individuals, veterans, trauma survivors and more. Visit dmpcc.org/social to sign up as a social media ambassador for the group to help amplify their messages, destigmatize mental health, and spread the word about the group’s events and services.

7. Donate to Iowa Crisis Chat.

A small donation can make a huge impact at this Iowa City-based group. Check out iowacrisischat.org/donate to contribute $50 and sponsor one suicide-prevention presentation at an Iowa school. Donating $100 will train one volunteer how to facilitate suicide prevention through Iowa Crisis Chat’s free crisis hotline that receives requests from Iowans in need of emotional support via phone, text or online chat.

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