Group CONNECTS over mental health issues
When Ed and Lynne Rutan approached Reverend Charles Robinson, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, about hosting a Project for Deeper Understanding panel discussion about mental health, he respectfully declined.
"I said it was a wonderful idea, but no one else would come because it is not a popular issue and it’s one of those topics that live in the shadows," Robinson said. "But what we agreed on after a number of conversations was that the order of the day was to see if we could do some work to raise awareness."
From those initial conversations, Robinson and the Rutans formed a group for residents who have been affected by mental illness or who are concerned about the mental-health issues facing the community. CONNECT began meeting in August and has about 30 members. Organizers filed paperwork last week to become officially recognized as a nonprofit.
Robinson said it has been "a wonderful experience." As a licensed marriage and family therapist, he said he is familiar with the mental health system and how it can "sometimes work and sometimes not work."
"I know what happens to people when services break down or adequate services are not around and available," Robinson said. "It’s been rare to see an all-volunteer group grow as quickly as this group has and with this much passion."
The group is comprised of professionals and members from the community, Robinson said, emphasizing how grateful he is that "someone is paying attention to these issues."
Last year, the County Council broached the subject with representatives from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Summit County attorney’s office and Valley Behavioral Health. Officials recognized that there were gaps in the county’s mental health and substance abuse services and pledged to address them.
A community steering committee was created and, along with the Summit County Council, Valley Behavioral Health and Summit County Health Department, recently launched a survey to begin assessing the community’s mental health and substance abuse needs. Officials are planning to use the information to reevaluate and improve the current system.
The Rutans said they joined the conversation because of their experiences "trying to negotiate the troubled waters" with their 32-year-old son, who was diagnosed as an adult with Schizoaffective Disorder.
"Our family was lucky. Today our son is living independently and working and contributing to our community," Lynne Rutan said. "He has a brain disease. It’s chronic, like diabetes, and it won’t go away. It is treatable and controllable, but it requires constant diligence and oversight."
Rutan wonders, "what about the other families who are trying to find help?"
"Before this, I was unaware how many neighbors, friends and colleagues are touched by it," she said. "It’s an illness and that’s why we have become involved in the effort to promote better understanding."
Last week, Robinson and the Rutans were joined by several members of CONNECT when they went before the Summit County Council requesting that May be recognized as Mental Health Awareness month in the county. The County Council unanimously approved the resolution.
CONNECT members are organizing several events throughout May, such as lectures, film screenings and group meetings, in the hopes of "de-stigmatizing" mental health.
"I mean, ultimately, our long-term goal is to get better services in Summit County," Rutan said. "But it’s a step-by-step process. As we’ve been talking to people trying to organize these events we run into people who want to talk about it and it’s like they don’t have a chance to and that’s what we are hoping these events can be."
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