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Hall County group to advocate for mental health

POSTED: May 17, 2009 10:24 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Dr. Jon C. Rubenow, right, chats with members of a new local chapter of a nationwide support group, Mental Health America, during a Thursday evening meeting at Grace Episcopal Church. The group hopes Hall County residents will have access to culturally competent and appropriate mental health services and information, including prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery.

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A mental health advocacy group is starting to take root in Hall County, but it may have never found its way if not for a couple of retirees.

Moving to Hall County eight years ago, Louise Cook was shocked to find out that a mental health group had dissolved.

After all, Cook had steeped herself in such advocacy work for more than 30 years, serving in Newton County. She also served on Georgia’s executive board many years ago.

In working to restart Hall’s chapter, she met Dr. Rusty Johnson, a retired internist and fellow resident of the Lanier Village Estates in North Hall, and learned that he had served after her on the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale board.

"Rusty and I thought we could get it going," she said. "We wanted the people of Hall County who knew more of the needs to be the leaders in this."

When the initiative never launched, even as a couple of
community groups stepped in, Cook and Johnson decided to "stick our neck out and contact some interested people, and we knew from that first group that we were with, the people in the treatment areas wanted this organization."

A longtime physician, Dr. Henry Jennings, "encouraged us to do something about it."

"We now have gotten (the group) certified and we think, with enough publicity, it can make a big difference in Hall County," Cook said.

Mental Health America, formerly known as the National Mental Health Association, was set up in 1909 by a former psychiatric patient. The organization, based in Alexandria, Va., has 320 chapters nationwide.

Hall County’s chapter adopted by-laws in September and has four officers, led by a chairman, Dr. Jon C. Rubenow, medical director for Avita Community Partners, a state-created organization serving people living with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases.

The chapter also has set up a Web site that declares, "Our vision is that all Hall county residents will have access to culturally competent and appropriate mental health services and information, including prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery."

As an organization just starting out, "we thought our best efforts would be spent on ... helping to make what services are available obvious and understandable to the general public," Rubenow said.

"So, when people have needs, they can get help," he added.

One initiative is to help up shore information about mental health services through the United Way of Hall County’s 211 phone line.

"We’re also taking some other information and putting that into the form of a pamphlet, which we intend to distribute to community leaders and medical providers who would be referring people for help, so that it’s as beneficial as possible," Rubenow said.

The idea behind such efforts is to "get this network that’s out there sewn together so that everybody working together should provide a better safety net for this community than if everybody is just functioning alone," he added.

Cook said she recalls the Newton County group’s effectiveness.

"You can’t be timid about speaking out for something that’s needed," she said.

"As president, I and others lobbied at the state Capitol and got housing for people. A lot of those people on the street had their medicine monitored and they were able to get back into industry.

"It’s a big challenge, but it’s not impossible. ... It takes letting the public know and educating the public that (mental illness) is not the stigma it used to be."



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