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Peer support is key to helping those with mental health issues

To the editor:

People with mental health challenges are statistically at a greater risk of committing crimes than the average person, but I don’t believe that is directly due to their mental health in most cases. Rather, it’s when untreated mental health challenges lead to poverty, homelessness, self-medication through drugs and alcohol, and the like, that people with these challenges become much more likely to get into trouble with the law.

I don’t use the term mental health “challenges” to be politically correct. I use it because these people thinking and behaving differently than what we consider to be the actions of a “normal” person shouldn’t lead to them being labeled as having an illness. They just think and behave differently, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a strength sometimes.

Our town has many peer support groups for those struggling with alcohol and drug usage. Support groups for mental health are a real thing, too, but our town currently has very few of them. I don’t think mental health support groups in a town our size can be too focused. We don’t have the population for that. Instead, it is my (unprofessional) opinion that we need mental health support groups focused on what I would call “root” challenges, such as anxiety and depression. For some, these are their mental health challenge(s). For those with a more complex diagnosis, these are quite often a prominent symptom.

What I’m proposing can be done at the local level, and it need not be super expensive. In theory, the highest expense would likely be the rental of facilities for meetings. A template for this type of group may well exist that we can import to our town. If it doesn’t, our town has numerous mental health professionals that could help design such an organization. If they can get the model right in Fort Dodge, Iowa, it could spread to other towns across the state, and maybe even farther.

To repeat, I believe the association of mental health directly to criminal activity is largely a stigma. What I’m proposing is a quality of life initiative first, with a reduction of crime being a potential side effect. Peer support groups are not a replacement for professional help and/or medication, but they could be a great supplement to those types of treatment.

I will be working hard for these peer support groups in the near future. If this initiative doesn’t gain traction, raising awareness of online options for finding peer support is probably the backup plan.

Justin Myers

Fort Dodge