Prevention Awareness Support Services, along with the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties joined the statewide "Life is Better with You Here" suicide prevention campaign, with the goal of connecting Lima's Black and African American population with available mental health and addiction services.
Between 1991 and 2017, suicide attempts among Black adolescents increased by 73%, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. As of 2018, suicide became the second leading cause of death in Black/African American children from ages 10 to 14, making it the third leading cause of death in Black/African American adolescents from ages 15 to 19, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In response to that and other data about this rising rate of suicide attempts and deaths, the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF) partnered with Canvaas Consulting to develop a public awareness campaign.
The "Life is Better With You Here" campaign was created to spark conversations about mental health and encourages people to check on peers who might be struggling and to connect to resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255, or withyouhere.org. In addition to giving access to the campaign research and materials, OSPF also provided funding to coalitions throughout Ohio to help connect community members with available mental health services.
A portion of the funding was allocated for billboards placed throughout Lima with the "Life is Better With You Here" messaging. "One in six Americans suffer from a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. However, minority groups - African Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native-Americans - are more likely to experience the risk factors that can cause such mental health disorders", National Institute of Mental Health.
So, with all the available mental health services in our community, PASS staff members wanted to ask why aren't the members of the community using them more? What are some of the barriers that prevent them to do so? With the remaining funding, three focus groups were formed. They consisted of Lima's Black/African American key leaders, business owners, and other influential community members. Key community leaders were contacted and invited to join in the project. They were asked to invite members from all areas and genres of the community to take part in one of three focus groups presented, and to provide their input. All three groups were held in March of 2021 and met in local restaurants. At each focus group, three key questions were asked, and the responses were recorded.
It was no surprise that when asked "What barriers keep you or others from using these services?", trust in currents systems and lack of education/awareness of the services were most sited. Despite progress in recent years, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. Embarrassment can be lessened by helping people in at-risk communities understand that mental health is an essential part of well-being - just like a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise. Initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid are helping people to reduce stigma while helping people to better understand and respond to signs of mental illness. Social determinants such as cost of insurance, lack of transportation, and representation were also listed. Studies have shown that minorities are less satisfied with the quality of care they receive since they felt that providers simply do not understand their needs.
After staff complied the responses received from focus group participants, a final forum was arranged with community members and local agencies to discuss the results. Margaret Lawrence from Coleman Behavioral Health, Melanie Woods from Family Resource Center, Judy Lester from SAFY, and Marcell King from UMADAOP spoke about what their agencies offer the communities. Janeece West from PASS explained how programs such as the Youth Summer Career Path Program is fostering diversity in young people interested in joining the mental health career field. She also highly encouraged Mental Health First Aid training to add eyes and ears within the community. Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties Executive Director Tammy Colon also spoke at the event. Project members stated that the goal is to lead to open communication within the Black community and local agencies to provide understanding and clarification.