Improving mental wellness


    We have all been shocked and horrified by the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz. A congresswoman was put into critical care along with several of her fellow citizens, while families mourn the loss of six of their relatives. Emerging reports about the accused perpetrator of these crimes describe a person with a troubled past and confused thinking. Some commentators have suggested that the accused had an untreated mental illness and wondered what could be done to prevent such awful violence. We feel it is important to clarify some facts about mental illnesses and the people who live with them.

    Consider the following facts about mental illness:

    • A person with a mental illness is no more prone to violent behavior than any other individual. Statistically, a person with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violent behavior then a perpetrator.
    • Stigmas associated with mental illnesses erode the confidence that these disorders are real and treatable health conditions. When we allow stigma to prevail, we erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers that prevent effective treatment and recovery.
    • Today’s treatment for serious mental illnesses is highly effective. It is estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with treatment and support.

    As the public mental health and substance abuse authority for Kent County, network180 has resources that local citizens in our communities can use. If you have medical insurance, mental health services are covered by contacting your insurance company for a referral. If you don’t have insurance or are on Medicaid, you should contact the network180 Access Line or visit the network180 Access Center.

    Below is information about these resources through network180:

    • Network180 Access Line: (616) 336-3765 or toll free 1-800-649-3777. The phone is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An Access Line representative can provide basic information about how to access services in our community. Clinical assessments, however, may need to be arranged in person. If you have concerns about the mental health of another individual, an Access Line representative may be able to provide some basic advice or direction for engaging an individual in treatment.
    • Network180 Access Center: 790 Fuller Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, 49503. The network180 Access Center is also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The center provides clinical assessments for individuals that are in a psychiatric crisis. Individuals are encouraged to call the Access Line prior to arriving at the Access Center. For non-emergency services you may be asked to return at a different time.

    These are important resources that are available to all members of our community. Mental health services can be most effectively provided when the individual experiencing difficulties and their support system work together to address the illness. Most mental health services require regular attendance at medical and therapy appointments. It is often helpful to have family members or friends support the individual in their journey toward recovery.

    Although family members or friends may observe behavior that leads to concern, an individual may not be willing to seek assistance. Individuals can be ordered by a court to receive mental health services, but only if the individual presents an immediate risk of harm to himself/herself or someone else. For individuals that don’t present a risk, it is very important to have family and friends monitor the behavior of the person. A friend or family member may be able to encourage the individual to seek treatment by offering to accompany the individual to an assessment meeting.

    During difficult and trying times, it is imperative that we focus on trying to make our communities better places to live. We know that support and encouragement are the most effective tools for improving the mental wellness of those individuals that are most at risk.

    For additional information about mental illness and services available in Kent County, please visit us on the web at

    Paul Ippel is executive director and Jonathan Mikulich is communication coordinator for network180 in Grand Rapids.

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