Guest Columnist

Breaking the stigma of mental illness in Iowa

Executive director of NAMI Iowa Peggy Huppert responds to a question from the audience during the mental health in young
Executive director of NAMI Iowa Peggy Huppert responds to a question from the audience during the mental health in young professionals session of the Iowa Ideas conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

We are living in stressful, anxious times. How ironic it is that the social distancing that is helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus has also created psychological distance, which is having an impact on mental health across the country.

Amerigroup, together with our parent company Anthem, Inc., recently joined with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to recognize National Mental Health Month. This year’s theme was “You Are Not Alone.” The pandemic, while challenging for all of us, can be especially difficult for the vulnerable Iowans that Amerigroup has the privilege to serve.

For example, an Amerigroup member in Eastern Iowa with developmental disabilities had been receiving services twice a week designed to help her lead an independent and productive life. However, in the middle of March as the pandemic hit, the program ended. She became isolated, and news reports only increased her anxiety. Amerigroup stepped in to help set up virtual day habilitation services three days per week. Now, while sheltering-in-place, the woman is engaged in online yoga and exercise classes, art projects, games and cooking, which have provided a sense of normal and improved her emotional health.

As part of mental health awareness, Amerigroup launched a campaign to spread the important message of self-care. We encouraged our 590 Iowa associates to compile “Me Minutes,” to take a few minutes every day and do something that provides a healthy break, such as taking a walk, connecting with a friend or just getting outside to enjoy the spring. Together with our Anthem colleagues across the country, we compiled more than 620 million #MeMinutes last month.

However, self-care is not a panacea. Mental illness is complex, and often requires treatment by a mental health professional. NAMI Iowa (www.namiiowa.org) is a vital community resource, providing support groups, education, outreach and advocacy for families and individuals of all ages. If you know someone in crisis, NAMI’s information and referral service can be reached by calling 515-254-0417 or info@namiiowa.org.

The path to a healthy life does not end with our physical health. Being healthy is about the whole person, including our mental health. We can get on the right path by reaching out and assuring one another that “You Are Not Alone.”

Jeffrey Jones is president of Amerigroup Iowa. Peggy Huppert is executive director of NAMI Iowa.

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