Since 1949, the month of May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month, with the goal of eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness. Millions of Americans suffer from mental health problems, with the number of individuals reporting anxiety and depression symptoms spiking during the COVID-19 pandemic. About a fifth of U.S. adults experience high levels of psychological distress, according to the Pew Research Center, especially adults under 29, those with lower income, and adults with disabilities or health conditions.
In Ohio, nearly 25 percent of Ohioans are living with a mental health condition and nearly 2.4 million Ohioans live in communities without enough behavioral health professionals. Increased demand coupled with a shortage of providers is straining mental health care facilities to their limits.
The state of Ohio recently announced an $85 million dollar investment to increase the number of behavioral healthcare providers by making education more affordable for students committed to mental health careers and removing financial barriers to licensing and certification requirements.
United Way of North Central Ohio wants to recognize the mental health care professionals and community impact partners who are working tirelessly to meet the needs of every person seeking their help, even in the face of this shortage. “Local counselors, social workers, and support staff are working crazy hours, under great stress, to care for our neighbors and friends in crisis,” said Amber Wertman, executive director of UWNCO. “We wanted to find a way to acknowledge the sacrifices they are making, and maybe lighten the load in a small way.”
This week United Way of North Central Ohio distributed prepaid gas cards to more than 80 mental health care providers and staff members at Community Counseling & Wellness Centers in Marion and Crawford counties and at Wyandot Counseling Associates in Upper Sandusky. “Community Counseling & Wellness Centers have been proud partners with United Way for many years,” said Cindy Wallis, executive director of CCWC in Bucyrus and Marion. “We are so thankful for the contributions we have received over the years and are especially grateful for this encouragement for our staff during some of the most diffuse times in our field.”
UWNCO asks that you make your recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month more than a moment. Check in with neighbors and friends, start conversations about mental health, and challenge the stigma. If you are struggling, please know there is help available. If you are in Marion or Crawford, start at Pathways of Central Ohio at 800-544-1601; in Wyandot call the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Ottawa, Sandusky and Wyandot Crisis Hotline at 800-826-1306. Ohio CareLine also offers round-the-clock assistance at 800-720-9616.