by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

When it comes to addressing mental health, Indiana has statistically lagged behind other states. Based on an often cited 2021 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the state ranked 42nd in addressing mental health among Indiana.

Some of the statistics underlying that ranking tell a more comprehensive story:

  • Nearly 40 percent of adults in Indiana reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, but 19 percent were unable to access counseling or therapy.
  • Nearly 1.3 million Hoosier adults report they have a mental health condition.
  • More than 4.4 million of Indiana residents live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals.
  • Of the 345,000 adults in Indiana who did not receive needed mental health care, 37.4 percent cited it was because of cost.

These mental health conditions can be traced to the lingering impact of COVID-19, according to Paul Conrad, director of training and development for ASPIN, a nonprofit that has launched a Reduce the Stigma initiative to train more certified community health workers (CHW) to bridge the gap between mental health needs and available support services.

Even as day-to-day activities normalize, the extended periods of social isolation and prolonged fear people experienced during the pandemic are manifesting in increasing cases of mental health challenges.

“We hear across the board that COVID was rough,” he said. “But it was worse than a lot of people realized until we started talking about it and it became part of the national conversation.”

ASPIN recently received $100,000 to support the development of webinar training on various topics, including outreach efforts to support mental health initiatives among marginalized communities, including African American, Hispanic, and Indigenous people. The first session, scheduled for June 26, focuses on reducing the stigma of mental illness among African American men.

While the training supports the ongoing development of CHWs, it also is open to the general public to gain insights, said Julia Holloway, director of program development for ASPIN. Holloway said the online training can provide insights that support a better understanding of cultural differences among different populations. 

“Our community health worker training can help anyone gain a better understanding of how to engage with your clients or your customers,” she said. “The more you can understand the particular cultural differences in the population that you’re dealing with, particularly if you’re not from that population, that can be valuable for any nonprofit leader.

In Indiana, nearly 70 percent of community health workers are white, compared to 9 percent African American and 5 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to a 2020 needs assessment report issued by Purdue University.

ASPIN also focuses on related challenges to gaining mental health support, including lack of health insurance.

“We know with any health equity challenges or mental health, all the things that we strive to work on, really comes down to health insurance,” Holloway said. “You’re not able to access services if you don’t have good health insurance.”

ASPIN’s team is concerned that an increasing number of Hoosiers who are in need of mental health services will no longer be able to access them as grace periods for obtaining Medicaid and other governmental support at certain income levels expire.ASPIN has trained more than 1,800 community health workers since it was founded nearly 30 years ago. Anyone interested in applying for certification as a CHW, can visit the organization’s website.

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