RED WING -- May is Mental Health Month in the United States and with the country experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and job loss, it could not have come at a better time, local health leaders said.

In Goodhue County a mental health coalition is being convened with participants from the county, Mayo Clinic Health System, Fernbrook Family Center, Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, Every Hand Joined, Make it OK, and the Goodhue County Child & Family Collaborative.

According to Maggie Cichosz, a county child and family collaborative coordinator, coalition envisions a county that has mentally healthy and thriving children and adults.

In Red Wing Mayor Sean Dowse officially proclaimed May to be Mental Health Month here. Four goals were outlined in the proclamation:

  • The expansion of access to mental health services.

  • Planning outreach that focuses on kindness and connection.

  • Teaching about the effects of adverse childhood experiences and how to build resiliency.

  • Creating resource guides for school staff, parents, and community members.

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Dowse listed a variety of reasons why the city is emphasizing mental health, including the findings that 1 in 5 Minnesotans faces a mental illness each year, that there is only one mental health provider per 1,080 residents in Goodhue County and COVID-19 is causing many individuals additional stress and anxiety.

One of the most staggering statistics that Dowse listed was the percentage of Goodhue County students who have seriously considered or attempted suicide.

The Minnesota Student Survey is a regular survey of students throughout the state. Its website explains:

“The Minnesota Student Survey was developed in 1989 to monitor risk and protective behaviors among students. From 1989 through 2010, students in grades 6, 9, and 12 responded to the survey. Beginning in 2013, grade-levels changed to 5, 8, 9, and 11. While many categories remain consistent over time, others are adjusted to reflect current priority topics. Some categories include tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use; nutrition; physical activity; sexual behavior; school safety; mental health; and relationships. The survey is voluntary and anonymous.”

Local teens

In 2019, the Minnesota Department of Education asked eight, ninth and eleventh graders in Goodhue County about their mental health. The data below shows the percentage of respondents who answered "yes" to a question.

  • Question: Have you seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year:

    • Eighth grade: 15.3%

    • Ninth grade: 27.9%

    • Eleventh grade: 8.6%

  • Question: Have you seriously considered attempting suicide more than a year ago:

    • Eighth grade: 14.9%

    • Ninth grade: 14%

    • Eleventh grade: 9.4%

  • Question: Have you attempted suicide during the last year?

    • Eighth grade: 5.9%

    • Ninth grade: 4.5%

    • Eleventh grade: 2.3%

  • Question: Have you attempted suicide more than a year ago:

    • Eighth grade: 4.9%

    • Ninth grade: 4.5%

    • Eleventh grade: 4.7%

Proposed quick dial hotline

On a national scale, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to establish 9-8-8 as a suicide and mental health hotline.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado first voted for a national suicide hotline in 2018. On Monday, April 27, Gardner was one of 40 members of Congress to sign a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting the inclusion of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in the next COVID-19 relief package. The letter says, in part:

“The creation of this three-digit dialing code is essential in order to address the growing suicide crisis across the United States. As our country is facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to COVID-19, this three-digit hotline would play a critical role in saving the lives of many vulnerable Americans who are facing mental health emergencies during this period of isolation and uncertainty. Suicide does not discriminate between rural and urban areas or by income, and it causes heartbreak and loss in communities in every single one of our states. We must ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent these devastating outcomes from occurring, especially in these trying times as grief and uncertainty encompass our nation.”

Signatures on the letter included Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Cichosz stresses that it is important for mental health to be a focus for all levels of government:

“There is no health without mental health. Now more than ever, it is important that we are taking care of our mental health. Finding ways to de-stress and recharge is important for mental well-being. Spend some time in nature, take deep breaths, be gentle with yourself and others, and reach out if you need help. Mental health matters."