|By Frank Lee, St. Cloud Times, Minn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"We are not counselors. We do not provide therapy. We are not doctors. We are peer support for those who suffer from a mental illness," said Schulzetenberg, a 61-year-old resident of
They started drop-in centers or "Havens," as they call them -- in
"We feel it meets a unique need in the rural
The centers provide a place to hang out and find reprieve from stress at home, to have a cup of coffee or a snack, to play games or watch TV, to interact with others, discuss problems and find support.</p>
"There is no financial involvement. We are only too happy to serve and be served by those who suffer," said Schulzetenberg, a husband and father with a degree from
Mrozek said of establishing drop-in centers in rural areas, "We kind of jumped in by the seat of our pants, going, 'We need something here. Let's get something going.' "
The drop-in centers attract between five and 10 people at a time, but Schulzetenberg hopes more will attend as the word spreads; the
"Visitors are welcome, but the centers are specifically for the mentally ill," said Schulzetenberg, who has been hospitalized several times.
"Persons who suffer from a mental illness are scared and shy and don't usually want to venture out publicly from their safe places, but a safe place is just what the Haven in
The number of mental and behavioral health ambulance trips has been growing, with patients and their families having to travel farther from underserved communities, according to the state's
According to data collected through the Minnesota State Ambulance Reporting system, the number of behavioral disorder ambulance runs increased 23 percent from 2005 to 2006, highlighting the need for drop-in centers.
Rates of depression among women in rural areas were as high as 40 percent, while only 13-20 percent of their counterparts in more urban areas were depressed, according to a 2005 report by the
Medications gradually stabilized Mrozek, a 58-year-old wife and mother of four from
"I can gain a lot of support from my husband; he has been my rock, but there comes a point, however, where he doesn't know what I'm going through, but with a support group, they know what I'm going through," she said.
"We asked, 'What do consumers -- people who use the mental health services -- like?' and they wanted drop-in centers."
Mental illness is also associated with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and the economic burden of mental illness in America was about
Rates for homicide and suicide are 2-6 times higher among people with a mental illness than in the population overall.
"The stigma, the negative things about being mentally ill is so difficult, and I think it's even worse in rural areas," Schulzetenberg said. "There's a lot of this feeling of 'I should pull myself up by my bootstraps and just get over it.' "
About 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and nearly 50 percent of adults in America will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime, according to the CDC.
"We want to put a positive spin on mental health. Ninety-nine percent of the people are not violent; we go about our lives trying to help each other, not trying to injure anybody," Mrozek said.
"There's not enough supply (of professional services) to meed the demand," Darnall said of the consensus of professional associations such as the
"It's always easier to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence," Darnall said of the idyllic views of agrarian communities. "But mental health disorders don't discriminate."
Mrozek said attendees from nine rural communities were represented at the Albany Haven in the past few weeks, "from
"We're grass roots; we're the common man, helping the common man," she said. "And if we can do that by support, if we help one person who walks out of here and goes, 'You know what? I feel better,' then I think we've done something."
Rural areas present unique challenges to providing quality mental health care, such as:
--Mental health providers are in short supply.
--Existing mental health clinics are located farther from residents.
--Seeking care from a mental health provider may carry a greater stigma.
--Financial barriers exist due to inadequacies in health insurance coverage and/or large numbers of residents below the poverty level.
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