By Sara Ousky, Goodhue County social worker

May is mental health awareness month. National statistics indicate that 1 in 4 Americans has some form of mental illness; and, like all other illnesses, people with mental illness can have mild, moderate or severe symptoms.

Goodhue County Health and Human Services’ Adult Mental Health Unit focuses on serving people with severe, serious and persistent mental health symptoms. These people have diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression or borderline personality disorder. Additionally, a majority have significant anxiety issues.

Most of the people the Mental Health Unit serves have incomes below the poverty level and receive Medical Assistance insurance. Most also have been certified disabled by Social Security.

The unit provides them a voluntary service called Adult Mental Health Case Management, the purpose of which is to provide stability for people to allow them to remain living in our community and stop the revolving door of hospitalizations.

Fernbrook Family Services in Red Wing also contracts with the county to provide mental health case management for children and adolescents.

In Goodhue County, there are five adult mental health social workers - with a combined caseload of about 300 people - who provide services to help residents in the areas of severe mental illness and chemical dependency. Because of the severity of these illnesses, social workers are in contact with every person on their caseload each month either by phone or in person.

Case management helps with housing and employment issues as well. Financial issues such as getting on Medical Assistance and managing their disability income so they have a place to live, food to eat and so on, is a big part of case management.

Case managers rely on community providers such as ProAct, homecare agencies, group homes/Board and Lodges, Community Support Program, psychiatrists and therapists as part of the overall plan to keep people stable in the community.

This unit works closely with other Health and Human Services divisions, including the waiver unit, which sometimes provides funding for additional services.

One social worker also provides therapeutic skill building groups such a cooking/social skills group, mindfulness group, music group and mental health/chemical dependency group.

The mental health unit provides assistance to individuals and families who are in need of a mental health or chemical dependency commitment to ensure their safety, or a guardianship/conservatorship to help manage their lives if individuals qualify for county assistance.

An example of the type of issues dealt with in this unit might include a person who is homeless because of hoarding, lives on a very fixed income, has chemical dependency issues and has major depression and anxiety.

Some examples of assisting this person might be the case manager helping to access and coordinate multiple community resources to manage mental health symptoms and keep the apartment clean.

Those interested in receiving adult mental health case management may call Goodhue County Social Services at 651-385-3232.

To qualify, a person must have a diagnostic assessment from a mental health professional (Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center and other local mental health providers can provide this), stating that their mental health symptoms qualify and they are on or eligible for Medical Assistance.