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It's Okay Not to be Okay

BUT YOU SHOULDN'T DO IT BY YOURSELF

Article by Linda Ditch

Photography by Provided

Mental health is less the hidden secret it once was, thanks in large part to celebrities and athletes speaking out about their struggles. Since 1950, the Bert Nash Center has supported the mental health of Lawrence and Douglas County with comprehensive behavioral health services. It is the designated community mental health center and certified community behavioral health clinic for the county.

Director of Community Engagement Emily Farley says, "People might have heard of Bert Nash, they may know where we're located, but many folks don't know quite what we do. Unfortunately, mental health has a stigma. But I think this community and Douglas County rally around mental health. Our goal is to break down the barriers of the stigma, allowing people to show their passion for mental health through advocating, financial support, and giving people a voice."


Bert Nash's clients come from all walks of life and seek help for many reasons. The facility provides a holistic approach to mental health, from prevention and education to hands- on therapy, case management, and helping people navigate life. Some people come to them for a few therapy sessions, while others need more intensive therapy help. They also offer substance use treatments, and they have employees working at the county jail and public and private schools throughout Douglas County.

“We have life-long clients and some who just come two or three times,” Farley says. "We're helping people with health disparities, promoting wellness, and ensuring people understand it's okay to seek help. It's okay not to be okay, but you should also seek help to make things better."

Farley thinks the isolation and loss from the COVID pandemic opened the gates for mental health acceptance. Where people once thought it was pull up your bootstraps, man up, get over it, or take a day off, today mental health became a real thing. She says, "Community mental health centers and private practices have seen a surge of kids, families, and adults seeking help. There are wait times. Never before has a community mental health center seen this demand."

In high school, Farley had her own mental health issues and developed an eating disorder as a coping mechanism. Luckily, people at her Baker University sorority helped her see the problem and how her life could improve. Still, she never got professional help. After working for the State of Kansas, she took her current job at Bert Nash in 2014.

"Growing up in the early 2000s, you did not talk about mental health," Farley says. "If you did, it was because you were gossiping about someone. I lived in Baldwin for four years, and then came to Lawrence, and had no idea Bert Nash existed. I could have gotten help. Now, I'm seeing people talk about mental health more regularly on social media, talking about it at dinner, and talking about going to therapy."

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The Center welcomes community members who wish to help support their mission. One way is by becoming a Bert Nash Ambassador, where you invite and host ten or more guests on a facility tour, either in person or virtually. This helps spread the word further in the community.

Another way to be involved is by making Nash Cares CareKits. You can assemble snack bags or hygiene kits by yourself or with a group. These are given out to people needing physical support to better address their mental health. For example, the new Bert Nash mobile response team takes these kits with them when called out by law enforcement or the new 988 or suicide hotlines.

The Center also offers Mental Health First Aid training courses. These classes give people the necessary skills to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental health problem. You'll learn the facts and warning signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Participants gain strategies to help in various situations, such as when someone has a panic attack, may be suicidal, or has overdosed.

Financial support from the community is vital to the Bert Nash Center's success. No one seeking help is ever turned away because of their inability to pay. This makes one-time and recurring donations essential for ensuring programs and systems are in place for long-term client services and care.

"We're fortunate to have support from Douglas County, the City of Lawrence, and the surrounding school districts to help us further the mission," Farley says. "This is a very caring, compassionate place to live. We want our community to know that it's okay not to be okay, but you shouldn't do it by yourself. It's totally acceptable to get help. And we want businesses to know that Bert Nash is here to help their employees and families. Even if it's not at Bert Nash, we just want people to get mental health support."

To learn more about the Bert Nash Mental Health Center and how to help, log onto bertnash.org.

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