By James Feichtner
For the past 11 months, the city of Fishers has been taking a proactive approach in hitting mental health issues head-on within the community. Partnering with local members from the Fishers Fire and Police departments, Hamilton Southeastern School District, Community Health Network and other community organizations, Fishers city government coordinated meetings as a mental health task force. The goal of the task force: to outline goals within the community to better the state of mental health care. On Nov. 17, the city officially released their report.
The ball for change began rolling after Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness came to a realization that last year Fishers Police officers conducted 157 immediate detentions on individuals that expressed a desire to hurt themselves or someone else.
“I thought that is profound that we have people in our community that are suffering so badly that once every 24 hours or every 48 hours we’re taking somebody to get dealt with,” Fadness said. “I remember saying to our city attorney that this is something that I’d really like to look into.”
In approaching the task force, Fadness admits that he was no expert on mental health. He wanted to bring in other community organizations more familiar with the topic.
“We knew we needed to get the schools involved, our law enforcement. We thought about churches, clinicians and then we needed to have someone run it who actually knew what they were talking about. We begged Suzanne (Clifford) to take the lead,” Fadness said. “She was willing to donate her time and experience to walk through this journey.”
Senior vice president of integrated primary care at Community Health Network Suzanne Clifford was more than excited to partner with the Fishers community in the Mental Health Task Force.
“It was a great way to do a public/private partnership and really mobilize a lot of key players,” Clifford said. “And that is how we are going to solve these tough problems is through getting the city involved, getting health care people involved, clergies, schools, people who have been impacted. That’s how you’re going to improve the care and the outcomes of people with mental illness.”
For the HSE school district, the collaboration couldn’t have come at a better time.
“As a school district we’ve had these conversations (on mental health) and they’ve just kind of, coincidentally, happened about the same time that this drive by the mayor’s office has encouraged all of us to talk together, and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Superintendent Dr. Allen Bourff said.
Bourff added that the school provides an imperative role in identifying mental health issues before they are exacerbated later in life if left untreated.
“We can start addressing mental health issues when they first crop up among children,” he said. “That takes training to understand and to know when you’re looking at a mental health issue as opposed to a violation of some kind of behavior code. If you don’t know the difference you treat it as a behavior or as a disciplinary consequence and you drive the problem deeper and deeper and it finally comes out as a crisis point.”
It is important to note that task force did not come about due to Fishers having an abnormal mental health problem compared to other cities.
“We don’t by any standards have an acute mental health problem more than any other community in America today,” Fadness said. “I think what is unique is our approach in that we’ve brought parties together from all different (organizations) and put a systemic approach to dealing with the issue.”
Fadness wanted to ensure that the goals resulting from the task force would be actionable and achievable in some form.
“One of the things that I really cared about when we started it is we’re actually going to have actionable items at the end of it,” Fadness said. “We do and we plan on meeting periodically to hold each other accountable to getting those done. I’m already getting reports from fire and police about their actionable items. I have every confidence that we’ll work towards those.”
The details of the report outline many factors that will be ongoing in the mission to improve how mental health is handled in the community. Fadness highlighted two main points to summarize the task force’s goals.
“If you want two big bullet points; increase education, awareness and training, and the other is either strengthen connections to resources or improve the amount of resources that are available to people who need help,” he said. “We’ve solidified around that. We have clear, actionable items that we need to take on. I don’t think there’s a moment too soon to try to put these things out there and to try to affect some sort of positive change.”
Fadness said that if anything the report will offer a chance at open communication between the city and it’s residents on a topic that has seemingly become a stigma in keeping quiet about.
“I think with this report that comes out; it’s good framework for that conversation to begin and it’s incumbent upon us to really try and have a dialogue with residents about this issue,” Fadness said. “We are going to work hard to get this out and among our residents to open that dialogue because it’s part and partial to the goal; to raise awareness and improve education and training. The report itself serves as a catalyst for that.”
To view the full Fishers Mental Health Task Force Report, visit www.fishers.in.us/MentalHealthReport