New Mental Health Resource Guide for Jefferson County

Photo by Werner Elmker

The Jefferson County Mental Health and Wellness Alliance was formed last year to create and support a mentally resilient community. Based in Fairfield, the Alliance includes mental health professionals, community leaders, city officials, and concerned townsfolk from all walks of life.

“All of us involved want our citizens, no matter what age, to know that others care, and that they can get the support they need at the level they need,” says Mayor Connie Boyer. By ensuring access to highly effective community-based education, support, and care, the Alliance aims to improve the mental health and well-being of Jefferson County residents.

“The Alliance is really a group of people who came together in the winter of 2021 and said, ‘Our community is suffering,’ ” explains City Engineer Melanie Carlson, a mother of three who is also chair of the School/Youth subcommittee.

“I was meeting with a group of parents who saw this in our kids and their classmates,” she says. “Many of the parents related stories of how their kids’ physical and mental health was deteriorating as Covid continued. One in three young adults have experienced a mental illness. Our parents group wanted to help the schools, whether through volunteering, policy change, grant writing, or whatever we could do.”

They also recognized that many of the issues that kids face are deeper than the recent Covid pandemic, extending to drug use, poverty, and systemic problems. “Which is why we were happy to join the mayor’s efforts to bring a community group together to address the big picture,” Carlson says.

Alliance member Carol Chesnutt adds that the difficulties everyone was experiencing around pandemic isolation helped bring the importance of regular mental health maintenance to the fore.

“In the middle of the pandemic, so many of us felt stretched too thin and isolated,” she says. “And then on top of that, a local high school teacher was murdered. I think everybody came together to support each other more after that. During strategic planning, we realized there’s no easily accessed, centralized information source on what services are available.”

She adds that taking care of brain health is just as important as attending to the rest of your bodily health. “We just need to know what tools and support mechanisms are out there, so that we can take care of ourselves and learn how to support ourselves,” she says. “We need to think of it as a maintenance issue and normalize it as much as possible.”

In the past, mental health issues were associated with traumatic experiences. Today, however, we’ve realized that everyone has ups and downs, good days and bad days, and anyone can face a mental health crisis.

“There is always room for better understanding and empathy,” says Mayor Boyer, “and to recognize that life is a series of mountains and valleys, and sometimes we just need support through some of those ebb and flows of life.

The Alliance wants to normalize mental health care and make everyone aware of all of the useful resources available in Jefferson County. One of those resources is a new flyer (previewed below) listing all of Jefferson County’s mental health services. The flyer has a QR code, so people can download it directly to their phones. The Alliance is also designing refrigerator magnets and laptop stickers with the same information.

In addition, the Alliance has committees working with area schools and organizations. Carlson’s subcommittee is organizing volunteers for mentorship programs that take place before and after school. “Connection and purpose are two things that have been missing from young people’s lives, particularly during Covid,” Carlson says. “We also talk about mental health and brain health with youth wherever we can. . . . Starting conversations is a key part of our outreach goals.”

Sandy Stevers, a mental health coordinator for Jefferson County, is happy to be involved with the Alliance. She feels that their mission to destigmatize mental health issues and make mental health resources more accessible is incredibly important. “One in five adults, on average, has some kind of mental health issue,” Stevers says. “It can be something minor or it can be something pretty intense. With 18,000 people in Jefferson County, that’s about 4,500 people experiencing mental health issues.”

Some manage to deal with issues on their own, but others need help from their doctor, a mental health center, or an institution. Destigmatizing mental health issues and making treatment information readily available helps everyone.

“Mental illness will touch all of us, if it has not already,” says Carlson. “Creating a community environment where brain health is looked at in the same way as physical health is essential to creating a strong community.”

As an example, she brings up how openly we discuss cancer and how generously we show compassion for those who have the disease. “If you experience cancer, you are often wrapped in love and support by your community,” she says. “Meals are brought to you and your family. Donations are made. Now what if serious mental illnesses or addictions were treated this way? I believe we, as a community, would be much more resilient if we could think of mental illness just as we would a physical illness.”

The Alliance hopes to make this attitude toward mental health a reality. By providing an updated directory of services and by promoting the importance of regular mental health maintenance for everyone, this grassroots organization looks forward to creating a healthy, resilient community that takes care of all facets of health for its citizens.

Click here for a reader-friendly version of the guide below.