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Reversing the stigma: City works to combat views on mental illness

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By Anna Skinner

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said that in terms of the city targeting mental health issues, 2016 was more of a “downstream” year.

Fadness and Fishers Fire Dept. Chief Steve Orusa said they’ll be working upstream this year.

“Basically, the first year of this initiative was all about learning about mental health and learning about systems that were or weren’t in place in the City of Fishers and develop a plan to fill the gaps,” Fadness said. “This last year, we were working mainly downstream in that we focused on people who were in a mental health crisis.

“A lot of efforts this first year were making sure that our first responders were well-equipped and well-enabled to deal with those folks and help those folks.”

In the first responders group dealing with possible mental crises, Fadness invited police, fire and even teachers. Orusa organized several objectives last year, and Fadness said a high percentage of those objectives were accomplished in 2016.

“A lot of those objectives focused on schools, such as when a student gets immediately detained then released to go back to school. There were gaps in services to those students,” Orusa said. “Other gaps were police and fire crisis intervention training that gives us tools to approach and de-escalate mental health services versus taking them to the emergency room.”

This month, a behavioral health specialist will be available to paramedics on mental health crisis calls for technological coaching.

“Paramedics for decades could call for medical consultation in coaching for cardiac and trauma calls. Now, in February, we can actually call a behavioral health specialist and have that person in the (mental health) crisis talk to them with technology over an iPad, and we can determine the outcome,” Orusa said. “Instead of bringing that person to the emergency room, we can bring them to Community Health. It opens up a vast menu of services for people with a variety of mental health needs.”

In addition to preventing people from reaching a mental health crisis in the first place, Fadness said Fishers is focused on becoming stigma-free.

“Right now, from a resident’s perspective, our initial focus was really making sure resources and government entities that existed would effectively help those individuals with mental health issues,” Fadness said. “The more abstract need in the community is our residents are aware and educated on the issue of mental health and open to having conversations about it.

“It’s still a taboo subject for some people,” Fadness continued. “It makes them uncomfortable, and we want to make sure people are open to having a conversation with folks about issues of mental health like they would with someone who broke their arm. Hopefully, we will inspire those living in quiet despair to step forward and get the help they need.”

Fadness encourages residents to sign the Stigma Free Fishers pledge at fishers.in.us/stigmafreefishers.

“We had not developed any systems or focused attention or efforts on issues of mental health and suicide, and it accounts for more death than what most people focus on, like homicide or even car accidents,” Fadness said. “It’s a responsibility of my position and the city, regardless of the issue. If it affects the wellbeing and safety of the residents, it’s upon us to address it.”

City Initiatives

In addition to establishing a Mental Health Task Force, Fishers last year created the Happiness Is Arts Crawl to promote a stigma-free Fishers. Law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services staff attended a 40-hour training for mental health crisis intervention. Fishers Fire Dept. Chief Steve Orusa and Mayor Scott Fadness traveled to New York City to speak with various public health officials from across the nation about Fishers’ initiatives.


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