Mental Illness Awareness Week: EveryStep Provides Support from Womb to End of Life

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year; anxiety disorders are the most diagnosed condition, affecting 48 million people in the U.S. In 1990, Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week to raise awareness, fight discrimination and provide support.

EveryStep addresses mental health in several ways, from pre-birth to end of life.

EveryStep family support manager Amber Schelling coordinates the Nine2Thrive™ program through community partnerships. Beginning as a pilot project in 2019 in Polk County, the program expanded to Wayne County in 2020 to support the healthy development of babies during pregnancy. “Studies show that extreme stress during pregnancy can have a direct effect on unborn babies, including pre-term birth, low birth weight and poor physical and emotional health by the age of 18 months,” said Amber.

On average, Nine2Thrive™ makes six connections to community-based resources for every referral received. Resources include case management services, financial support, home visiting, baby supplies and food. Mental health is also a key component of the program. “The education that Nine2Thrive™ provides to mothers during their pregnancies can make the women more aware of their mental health and potentially help them identify any concerns, like postpartum depression or anxiety, after giving birth,” said Amber.

EveryStep Maternal Child Health clinical manager Becky Borgman says new clients enrolled in that program are routinely screened for depression. “Many of the clients we serve live in constant, chronic stress. This can be a baseline for them.” Becky says the depression screening not only helps EveryStep staff understand how a mom is feeling, but also helps normalize mental health and screening for it.

A key part of EveryStep’s Maternal Child Health program is fostering a trusting relationship that enables clients to raise concerns on their own, because medical providers don’t always ask patients how they are doing emotionally. “They are not used to advocating for themselves,” says Becky. “This again comes back to that trusting relationship and being able to have an open conversation.”

Parents may have concerns about their child’s mental health and that’s where EveryStep’s Care for Kids program can help. EveryStep’s Care for Kids is an Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis & Treatment (EPSDT) program – the benefit package of Medicaid/Title 19 for individuals under age 21. Stephanie Ask, an EveryStep outreach specialist, says mental health is a routine part of the program. “Each family that we speak to [is given] an opportunity to voice concerns about their kiddos’ mental health, and if there are concerns, we connect them with a list of mental health providers in the area.”

Stephanie says response to the inclusion of mental health in the Care for Kids program has been very positive. “I find that some parents just want to be heard,” says Stephanie. “I don’t try to be pushy when offering assistance with providers. I let them know that these things are available and it’s their choice if they’d like to use them. I also make sure that parents know they can always call me back if they change their mind.”

Mental health is a critical part of the services offered by EveryStep Hospice and EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda program. Hospice provides compassionate care to manage a patient’s pain and symptoms, but important support and education is also provided for the family and loved ones of a patient. “My brothers and I cannot say enough good things about the [EveryStep] staff,” says Mark Sawyers, whose father, Keith, was a hospice patient at EveryStep’s Kavanagh Hospice House in Des Moines. “I have nothing but kind words for all of the staff. They explained the entire process and the steps of death, and were there with us until the very end, thoughtful and professional.” EveryStep Hospice also provides ongoing, free grief support to families mourning a loved one’s death.

EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program addresses the mental health of those who have lost a loved one. A variety of programs and support groups are offered free of charge to help those grieving navigate the many feelings associated with loss, such as sadness, anger, frustration, shock, numbness, denial, guilt, emotional distancing, lack of interest and confidence, relationship difficulties, anxiety and panic.

Mental health is about making healthy connections and being open to speaking about and reaching out for help. “I would say to anyone that’s struggling with mental health issues that you are not alone. Talking about these issues can be terrifying, but so many others feel the same way,” says Stephanie.

Becky adds these discussions need to be normalized, beginning in childhood. “One of my favorite parts of being a maternal child nurse is letting a mom know what she is feeling is normal and she isn’t alone.”

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946. Or, complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.