I am many things: a son, father, husband, friend and a Linn County Supervisor. I am also someone with a diagnosed mental illness, and September 15 marks my five-year anniversary of sobriety from alcohol. I felt a personal calling to celebrate this milestone by helping reduce the stigma of mental illness and giving a voice to those who are facing challenges with their mental health and substance use.
I am one of approximately 47 million Americans with a diagnosed mental illness and one of an estimated 10 million Americans with a mental illness and a co-occurring substance use disorder (alcohol). I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol that negatively affected my desire for mental wellness and for many of you reading this; it is the first time you are learning about my struggle. It is my hope that by sharing my story, others will be inspired to exhibit greater awareness, compassion and understanding toward those in our community who face these challenges; allowing us to see them as a person and not as a condition.
My journey with depression started in my teenage years and went undiagnosed and unmedicated until my early 30s. During this time, I looked at my depression and need to drink with shame. To me, it was a failure of will power and a problem to be solved. I came to understand these behavioral health challenges for what they are: chemical imbalances in the brain and with time, they became my greatest teachers — a part of who I am. My depression and five years of sobriety do not define my life, but they are an important part of it.
Because of my own journey, and the private journey of so many others who strive for mental wellness, I am leading the charge in creating a Mental Health Access Center. This will be a physical space where individuals can safely go when experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis instead of the hospital emergency rooms and jail; oftentimes the two most costly and inappropriate settings for someone in crisis. This will be the first operational Mental Health Access Center in the state of Iowa, open 24/7/365 to provide high quality, safe, evidence-based services, which includes crisis observation, crisis stabilization, sobering unit, and the only medically supervised detox center in Linn County for those seeking opioid and alcohol treatment. This partnership between Linn County, Abbe Center for Community Mental Health, Area Substance Abuse Council, Foundation 2 and the Penn Center has the full support of local law enforcement, area hospitals, ambulance services and service providers. The Mental Health Access Center is anticipated to be open in late 2019 or early 2020 and will be located at 501 13th St NW next to the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health.
I am also leading the effort to create a Homeless Resource Center in the same county-owned building that the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health occupies. This space will serve as a cold weather overflow shelter and there are plans to create a day-center for the homeless where they can access computers, internet, showers, laundry, mailboxes and mental health services during the daytime. Linn County will continue to be a leader in providing critical services to vulnerable populations.
To those suffering from a mental illness and substance use challenges, my message to you is simple: You are not alone and your condition does not define you as a person. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need help, please call the Foundation 2 Mobile Crisis Line at (319) 362-2174. If you would like to seek help for substance use disorder, please call ASAC at (319) 390-4611.
Ben Rogers is a Linn County supervisor representing District 2.