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Local substance abuse coalition and mental health group join forces

Newton Daily News - 4/10/2019

April 10-- Apr. 10--At their core, the Jasper County Substance Abuse Coalition and the Mental Health Collaboration are fighting for the same outcome: positive changes in the community.

However, the grant sustaining the Mental Health Collaboration group expires June 30. This month, it was announced the local initiative will combine with the Jasper County Substance Abuse Coalition to further increase the promotion of prevention efforts, improve access to treatment and reduce the stigmas associated with mental health and substance abuse.

Tentatively named the Jasper County Substance Abuse & Mental Health Coalition, the merger seemed to make sense and "be a good fit" for both groups, according to Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess. The merger, he said, was in discussions for the past six months and was identified as the best solution to improve the longevity of the mental health advocacy group.

"As we know, mental health and substance abuse has a lot of overlap," Burdess said. "Plus, a lot of the same people that go to mental health meetings also go to the substance abuse meetings. So for efficiency purposes and for sustainability purposes, it was decided this would be the best avenue for the benefit of the community."

Even so, more tasks will be asked of the group, Burdess added, but it will also have "a broader base of knowledge within the entire coalition." No longer compartmentalized, the Jasper County Substance Abuse & Mental Health Coalition's endeavors will be bound as one.

"We've got both heads together," Burdess said. "So even though there may be more things that we may be working on at one time, you've got the right people in the room now. So you're going to be able to address it in a more effective manner by doing it this way."

He added, "This is a good first start in setting a roadmap for where we're going to go in the future. I think every meeting that comes up in the future there's going to be a sprinkling of mental health and substance abuse topics throughout the meetings. There may be a meeting where it's heavy on mental health or heavy on substance abuse -- it depends on really what we're doing at the time."

At its most recent meeting Tuesday at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center, the Jasper County Substance Abuse & Mental Health Coalition -- comprised of community leaders, prevention specialists and care providers throughout the area -- narrowed down its goals for next session.

Collecting their thoughts on sticky notes, guests were asked to post any comments of "loose ends" they wanted to have covered. Notes were displayed onto two pieces of paper taped to the back of two doors, prompting nearly every person to contribute to the procedure.

The "loose ends" discussion was propelled by Julie Bishop Gibson, a coordinator of the Catholic Health Initiatives' mental health care access grant. Encouraging members to share both substance abuse and mental health loose ends, Bishop Gibson wrote each suggestion onto a large sheet of paper -- which was later used as the backbone of the broad goal setting session with sticky notes.

"What's a loose end that might still want some work?" Bishop Gibson asked the group.

Suicide prevention, peer drop-in centers, youth homelessness, promoting the crisis line number and effective screenings were among the many goals discussed during the exercise.

The Jasper County Substance Abuse & Mental Health Coalition will meet again May 14. The group regularly meets on the second Tuesday of every month.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or at cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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