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Editorial: Reach Out Day offers opportunity to improve mental health awareness
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Those in need of assistance with a mental condition go to the Laurelwood intake lobby for an assessment. The lobby is located near the emergency room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

When the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce holds its annual HealthSmart Expo on Oct. 16, the focus will be on mental health, with speakers and seminars addressing that particular aspect of personal wellbeing.

The timing of that programming is not accidental. That same day, the United Way is hoping to garner community support for “Reach Out Day,” an event meant to spark an awareness of mental health issues in the area and to build support for addressing certain areas so as to better meet the needs of those facing mental health problems.

The area of “mental health” encompasses a broad spectrum of concerns and issues, including depression and anxiety, drug and alcohol addictions and suicide prevention. While the statistics are daunting on a national scale — a report by Mental Health America shows 20% of all adults suffer some form of mental illness — closer to home the numbers are simply staggering.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

Data collected for a Community Health Needs Assessment found:

  • The Hall County suicide rate is 13.1 per 100,000 people, higher than the state benchmark of 11.9 per 100,000. In Dawson County, the suicide rate is a staggering 29.2 per 100,000. Statewide, more than half of all violent deaths are due to suicides.

  • Roughly 5% of students in grades 6-12 in the Gainesville and Hall County school systems reported they had attempted to commit suicide at least once over the course of a year. A study done in 2018 found some 675 students in grades 6-12 in the two systems attempted suicide; more than 100 of them attempted it more than once. Let those numbers sink in; over the course of 12 months some 100 local children attempted more than once to commit suicide.

  • A study of data from 2014-2016 found a statewide rate for drug overdose deaths of 13 per 100,000 people. In Hall County, the rate was 78 per 100,000. A drug overdose rate that is 6 times the statewide number is impossible to ignore.

  • Poverty is a factor in abuse, neglect and violent crime. Children from families with an annual household income of $15,000 were 22 times more likely to experience mistreatment than those from a household with an annual income of $30,000. The crime rate is highest in low-income areas of Hall County.

  • Anxiety disorders and depressive disorder are the most frequently diagnosed mental health issues; alcohol dependency represents the largest expenditure category on insurance claims.

  • Access to mental health providers is the No. 1 ranked health need in Hall and other nearby counties. The ratio of mental health care providers to population in Hall County is 1,350 to 1, compared to a ratio of 330 to 1 in “top performing” communities.

The data from the needs assessment study is available on the Northeast Georgia Heath Systems’ website and is interwoven into the communitywide effort to address mental health needs and concerns. The United Way has a web page specifically for the mental health initiative — www.unitedwayhallcounty.org/reach-out — that includes a mental health survey that can be completed through Oct. 16.

The assessment is daunting, showing a broad spectrum of issues that need to be addressed and a depth of underlying circumstances that will have to improve for the area’s overall mental health picture to become better.

Drug addiction, suicides, depression, anxiety, mental disorders, abuse, violence, destructive personal behavior — all are part of the mental health discussion, all worthy of special attention, all in need of more attention, more professional care, more community concern, not just in Hall County but throughout North Georgia.

Part of the problem in addressing mental health is that the nomenclature is so all-encompassing. Trying to find ways to address all of the elements that comprise the mental health discussion is an almost impossible task.

Like the old adage, the best way to eat a dinosaur is one bite at a time. With its current community effort, the United Way and others are trying to create some bite-size issues to address in an effective and manageable fashion. One thing is certain: until we can find ways to make a difference in the mental health arena, our community will never meet its full potential as an incredible place to live and work.

We hope you can find a way to be part of the Oct. 16 effort to make the community more fully aware of the mental health challenges it faces. Take the survey on the United Way webpage. Look for ways to improve your own mental health and well-being, not only on “Reach Out Day,” but on every day.

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