Addressing Mental Health in Central Iowa: Meet Social Worker Abby Shull

Abby Shull

A recent report on mental health issues in central Iowa finds while most adult residents rate their overall mental health favorably, nearly 25% believe their mental health is “fair” or “poor”. And children are struggling, too. Among parents with children ages 5 to 17, more than 2 in 10 report their child needed mental health services at some point in the past year.

The report also interviewed “key informants” or those with first-hand experience in the field. Nearly 76% said mental health is a major problem in central Iowa and key reasons cited were lack of access to affordable, confidential mental health, especially in rural areas, and for the uninsured or underinsured.

EveryStep’s Wellbeing Connections addresses mental health
A new EveryStep program is addressing this problem and EveryStep social worker Abby Shull is helping its implementation. The Wellbeing Connections program receives referrals from individuals, families, schools, mobile crisis units, law enforcement or agencies in Polk County. “The main requirement for families is that they live in Polk County and have children 18 and under experiencing a mental health related crisis,” says Abby. “Families can be referred by someone else or request my services on their own.” The program is growing with the planned addition of another staff member.

Abby graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2018 and earned her Master of Social Work in 2020, while working full-time at EveryStep. “I was fortunate to work with supervisors who were accommodating to my school and work schedule,” says Abby. Jude Kuehner, also an EveryStep social worker, was Abby’s field supervisor. “She offered lots of great advice and was an awesome role model to have.”

No ”typical” day for an EveryStep social worker
For an EveryStep social worker, each day is different and presents its own challenges. “My day can change on a dime! Our Wellbeing Connections program is part of the children’s regional mental health system, and I work with families who are actively in crisis or post-crisis,” says Abby. “I’m usually fielding or making phone calls, texts and emails to listen to families, support them and coordinate services.

“The biggest challenge I face is meeting the needs of families and finding placement for children who have significant behaviors and are a risk to themselves and those around them.”

“I am so lucky to serve families in a metro area. It is rare that I have a family with a need and absolutely no resource to fill that void. The biggest challenge I face is meeting the mental health needs of families and finding placement for children who have significant behaviors and are a risk to themselves and those around them,” says Abby.

For Abby, the small victories help fuel her passion for social work. “When I can talk with a family and offer a service or referral, and you can feel the relief radiating from the family or they say, ‘this is what I've been looking for’ — very few things feel as good as that does."

 Abby began her social work career at EveryStep in 2018, took a hiatus in 2021 and came back in 2022. “I love that working for EveryStep has rarely felt like ‘just a job.’ I am so fortunate with the coworkers I have had over the years and with the families I have served. It is rare for me to have a bad day at work, but when I'm feeling down or stressed, I know I always have someone I can call on who will be there for me,” says Abby. “I don't know many other companies where the CEO will send you a handwritten note after you've experienced a familial loss or congratulations on the birth of your first child. My list of complaints is short but the list of things I love about this agency is long.”

Abby and her husband are college sweethearts who have been together for 9 years and married for over 5 years. “We have a sweet and spunky little girl named Declan who is 3. We also have three labradors — Earl (9), Georgia Ann (6) and Feller (3). I love to spend time with our little family and our extended family. Last year we got to go boating on the lake, take Declan's first trip to the beach and spend lots of time outdoors. We're hoping for a repeat this year!”

Your donations support programs like EveryStep’s Wellbeing Connections and staff like Abby who work directly with those facing crises in central Iowa. With your donation, you help ensure families and children don’t fall through the gaps of the state’s mental health system. You become part of the tapestry that supports individuals and families during difficult times so they can go on to thrive as part of our community.

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If you are interested in joining the EveryStep team, visit If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.