In the Quad Cities area, 23.1 percent of adults experience fair or poor mental health while 42.7 percent have experienced symptoms of chronic depression.

That’s according to the 2021 QC Community Health Assessment, and during May — National Mental Health Awareness Month — the Quad Cities Behavioral Health Coalition is highlighting efforts made every day to increase awareness of how integral mental health is to our overall well-being.

Jill Biden, Ayanna Kelly, Juan Acosta, Selena Gomez
First lady Jill Biden speaks with youth mental health leader Ayanna Kelly, youth mental health leader Juan Acosta, and actress and mental health advocate Selena Gomez, during the White House Conversation on Youth Mental Health, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This coalition (of dozens of organizations) was formed in 2019 to advance behavioral health of residents in Rock Island and Scott counties. Since then, entities across all sectors of the community have been working together to build partnerships, assess and improve access to behavioral health and bring innovative projects to our community.

The coalition is now actively recruiting partners. Collaboration across all sectors of our community will help us improve our community’s mental health and we eagerly invite new partners to join our efforts, according to Nicole Carkner, executive director of the QC Health Initiative and Behavioral Health Coalition Steering Committee member.

The COVID-19 pandemic — combined with many other social, political and economic factors — has understandably led to an increase in feelings of anxiety and depression or a worsening of existing health conditions for many community members, she said.

Since the 2021 QC community health assessment was the first one done since COVID (they’re done every three years), it’s possible that mental health concerns have been made worse by the pandemic, Carkner noted.

“Or perhaps people are starting to notice things for the first time, and that was one of the reasons for wanting to encourage attention on mental health,” she said. “This month, we’re thinking about wanting to make it easier for people to have conversations, talk about mental health.”

“We’ve been working together since 2019. But again, we’re eager and excited to continue to outreach to the community and make new connections,” Carrkner said.

The health assessment showed:

  • 30% of QC adults surveyed have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder (vs. an average of 20.6% nationally).
  • 25% are currently receiving mental health treatment (vs. 16.8% nationally).
  • the 2017-19 suicide rate in QC area was 16 per 100,000 population (vs. 14 nationally).

Launching “Zero Suicide”

The coalition is committed to bringing innovative projects to the QC region, and one of those projects is the new Quad Cities Zero Suicide Initiative, to reduce suicides in the community. To accomplish this goal, Carkner says they’re seeking support of more than 100 organizational partners and 1,000 individuals who believe that suicide is preventable.

Zero Suicide grew out of initial conversations with what they call the innovation team of the Behavioral Health Coalition. The project is similar to similar organizations around the country that work in the “zero suicide” framework, she said Thursday.

“We’re really interested in trying to expand training in the community, so that individuals feel comfortable encouraging, and having conversations about suicide,” Carkner said. “It can be a topic that seems a little uncomfortable to talk about it first. So, one of the things that we’re going to be trying to do is encourage participation in trainings, that can help people to feel more comfortable with those conversations and hopefully will just make it easier for everyone to talk about mental health issues.”

The number of U.S. suicides in 2020 (45,855) was 3% lower than in 2019 (47,511). The age-adjusted suicide rate was also 3% lower in 2020 (13.5 per 100,000) than in 2019 (13.9).

The Zero Suicide Initiative is being led by the Quad Cities Open Network, a collaboration of public service organizations working together to increase community well-being through a strong human services sector. For more information, visit its website.

The QCON has recently received $100,000 in grant funding for Zero Suicide — $50,000 from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation and $50,000 from the Regional Development Authority.

Come July, it will be easier for people across the nation suffering mental health issues and suicidal thoughts to get help. The new 988 number to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will go into effect July 16, 2022.

The toll-free 24/7 national hotline — 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) has been in operation since 2005 and is funded by the HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission’s five leaders unanimously voted to finalize 988 as the three-digit number Americans can dial to be connected to the existing lifeline’s network of trained counselors.

Improving access to behavioral health

The QC coalition is dedicated to assessing and improving access to behavioral health. “While demand for services is high and continues to grow, mental health providers in this community are committed to expanding services to ensure more resources for care are available,” a Thursday coalition release said.

Local provider organizations continue to recruit behavioral health specialists locally, regionally, and nationally. However, the behavioral health sector is not immune to the national workforce shortage which has led to staffing challenges, the group said.

The 2021 QC health assessment found that over 42 percent of local adults have experienced chronic depression (Credit: Getty Images).

“Fortunately, we have a comprehensive safety net system at Community Health Care, Inc., Genesis Health System, Robert Young Center/UnityPoint Health-Trinity, Transitions Mental Health and Vera French Community Mental Health Center,” they said.

The coalition vision is that the QC region “is known for outstanding, comprehensive and coordinated behavioral health services that are accessible to all in a timely manner.”

“There is no better time for us to support each other in well-being. Spread the word that help is available,” the release said. “Support someone you know. Volunteer for a local mental health organization. Help your community prioritize mental health for all.

Beyond these organizations, the community has a strong network of resources through many local agencies that provide therapy, medication management, case management and other support services. For individuals in need of immediate crisis services, assistance is available 24 hours a day. People in Scott County should call 855-581-8111 and those in Rock Island County should call 309-779-2999.

For more information on the QC Behavioral Health Coalition, visit facebook.com/QCBHC or contact them at qcbehavioralhealth@gmail.com.