State of Healthcare focuses on mental health


Courtesy of the Ames Chamber of Commerce

The State of Healthcare event featured panelists Roxanne Petersen, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Central Iowa, and Daniel Bench of Central Iowa Psychological Services.

Experts at the annual State of Healthcare emphasized the importance of a fully staffed mental health workforce to combat the increase of mental health issues in Story County.

The event featured a panel consisting of Roxanne Petersen, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Central Iowa, and Daniel Bench of Central Iowa Psychological Services. Both panelists were admittedly new to Story County and starting working in the county within the past year.

The event was moderated by the chamber’s Director of Economic Development Outreach & Government Relations, Greg Piklapp.

“For this year’s State of Healthcare, we decided to focus on mental health,” Piklapp said. “Mental health is becoming a growing, growing issue. Some of it is relevance just to the fact that people are starting to pay attention to it where back years ago, it was more in the shadows.”

Bench said he was seeing a lot of the same problems prior to the pandemic, but ten times as much.

“The pandemic has – I would say – exponentially increased incidents of depression [and] anxiety,” Bench said. “We were just starting to get a handle on addiction services [then] we saw a slight downtick right before the pandemic and then we’ve seen a lot of increase in substance use of all kinds, opiates, methamphetamines and alcohol use.”

While discussing solutions, Petersen said mental health first aid training is available to anyone.

“It does help,” Petersen said. “Whether you’re […] a citizen walking on the street and you witness something and you’re able to recognize some of those signs and symptoms.”

Petersen and Bench agreed mental health resources need staffing and strongly encouraged everyone to receive mental health first aid training if they have not already.

Both NAMI and the Alternative Response for Community Health (ARCH) program partner with the Ames Police Department, which Petersen said was amazing by because some police departments cannot offer the same services. ARCH, which received more funding in the city’s annual budget, helps aid mental health emergency calls with social workers and EMTs instead of police.

Members of the audience, who were composed of elected officials, local healthcare workers and other community members, jumped into the discussion, adding that the ARCH has aided over 100 mental health calls and highlighted the Central Iowa Community Services crisis team located at Eyerly Ball– the community mental health center.

Central Iowa Community Services serves 15 counties and is one of 14 mental health service regions in the state.

Ames City Council Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher attended the event and asked the panel what a group like a workplace or a school could do to not exacerbate ongoing struggles with mental health.

“Just the fact that [there is] this big turnout this early in the morning shows that there’s a lot of committed people out there,” Bench said. “I think at the base level, just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Petersen said the solution is about continuous and constant education, as well as rapport with individuals.

“I just go back to if you’re loving and you’re compassionate, and you’re willing to hold a space for people that are struggling no matter who they are no matter what walk of life they come from, do that,” Petersen said.

After the meeting, Betcher said she was optimistic about the state of healthcare in Ames with ongoing programs like ARCH. She, however, was not optimistic about the lack of providers to address the mental health crisis, adding that contributing more funds to resources would require state or federal funds.

“I know that we’re doing better than other places and the fact that this room was full at 7:30 in the morning gives me hope that there are employers and caring community members who are willing to work on making it better,” Betcher said.

Betcher, who is also a teaching professor in English at Iowa State, said it was important that students view themselves as residents of Ames and that the mental health resources funded by the city do not exclude them.

“I have too many students in my classes who don’t think about the resources that Ames has to offer for them as students,” Betcher said.

A list of mental health resources on and off campus, which includes NAMI and Central Iowa Community Services’ hotline through Your Life Iowa, can be found here.

Petersen said NAMI is always looking for help and anyone can sign up to volunteer on their website.