MHAPC aims to educate community

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mental health is a phrase that many don't understand and that frightens some.

Eileen Johnson, executive director of Mental Health America of Putnam County, works hard to get out into the community and dispel stigmas attached to her organization and others like it.

"I think a lot of people have misconceptions," she said. "I can see that look in their eyes when I tell them where I work."

Johnson stressed that Mental Health America is not a therapy center.

"We're an education and advocacy center," she said. "The basic idea is to educate people about mental health and mental wellness."

A series of educational programs was launched through MHA about a year and a half ago. Johnson believes some who could benefit from these programs do not take advantage of them because they fear being labeled.

"There is still a fear because people are afraid of what others might think," she said. "We really put a lot of emphasis on wellness."

MHAPC provides services for people of every age. Some of their programs include Clothe-A-Child, which aims to boost the self esteem of local children by providing them with clothing they can take pride in, thus giving them a better opportunity to succeed in school; Children and Parents of Divorce, an educational program that helps divorcing parents and their children cope with their feelings about the situation; a Community Education Series, which brings professional speakers in to address and answer questions about a variety of mental health issues; Holiday Gift Lift, a program to benefit underprivileged families; and the Junior Mental Health Association, among others.

Johnson said many people are surprised to learn how many children deal with mental health issues.

"We want to get the word out," Johnson said. "Most mental illnesses are curable, or at least treatable."

MHAPC touches many people through its programs, but the actual number of people they have helped over the years is not easy to pinpoint.

"We don't count our phone contacts," Johnson said. "I do a lot of referrals."

MHAPC Past President Susan Stewart agreed.

"I doubt that there are many families who have not been affected by issues dealing with mental health," she said. "Hopefully, answers as well as relief can be found by communities working together."

MHAPC is funded largely by private donations, and as is the case for many not-for-profit agencies, contributions have been falling off in recent years. The organization also receives some funding from the United Way of Putnam County.

"Our programs are good programs," Johnson said. "We depend on donations and membership fees. We just ask that people who believe in our cause support us."

MHAPC is located at 10 N. Jackson Street, Greencastle. For more information on the organization or any of its programs, call 653-3310.

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