Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on mental health: What you can do, what “we” can do March 10, 2020


I photographed this at an ethnic celebration last fall at the Northfield Public Library. This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.


THEY’RE NOT NUTS, crazy or whatever other derogatory term you want to tag to someone with mental health struggles.

Such uninformed, inaccurate and offensive words continue to perpetuate the stigma, the blame, the discrimination against those diagnosed with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.

If you sense a bit of anger in my words, it’s because I’m trying to come to terms with something offensive I saw in small town Minnesota this past weekend as it relates to mental illness. I’m currently processing this, recognizing that a knee jerk emotional reaction won’t help.


This sculpture outside the Northfield library is called “Waist Deep” and addresses the topic of mental health. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.


So let’s set that aside and talk about positive things that are happening now to raise awareness and educate about mental health. This Thursday, March 12, Minnesota’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is organizing “Mental Health Day on the Hill” at the Minnesota state capitol in an effort to strengthen and expand our mental health system. That’s much-needed in a state with a severe shortage of mental healthcare professionals. A rally is set for 11 am to noon in the capitol rotunda.


A sign explains the story behind the “Waist Deep” sculpture. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.


Rallies are effective because they draw attention to a cause. But we need to do more. And that starts with each of us individually, personally. We need to educate ourselves, to show support, care and compassion to our families, our friends, our neighbors, anyone who is struggling with their mental health. Just like we rally when someone is diagnosed with cancer, we need to give that same support during a mental health crisis. But how many GoFundMe pages or local community fundraisers have you seen for someone facing insurmountable medical and other bills due to a mental illness? Not many or none, I would guess.

However, there are exceptions. Recently a Faribault police officer took his own life. In an obit published in my local newspaper, the family shared this about their loved one: He took a medical retirement after a 10 year career. He was diagnosed with PTSD and lost his battle with the disease by taking his own life. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover his funeral expenses with any extras going toward his children’s education. We read often in an obituary that someone died after a long, brave battle with cancer. To read about someone battling a disease like PTSD is equally as important, especially in ending the associated stigma.

There’s a reason mental illness is sometimes called the “no casserole disease.” In Minnesota, I’d say, the “no hotdish disease.” It’s time for that to change—time for us to start taking hotdishes to, sending cards, visiting, calling and otherwise supporting those who are in the throes of a mental health crisis or recovery. (And their families.) Just as we do when someone is hospitalized during and after surgery or going through chemo or…


A close-up of that reaching hand on the Northfield, Minnesota, sculpture. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.


And we need to speak up when people use stigmatizing words like “nuts” and “crazy.”

I appreciate that this week, and again in late April, Faribault Community School is offering an 8-hour youth mental health first aid training course to help adults identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness or substance abuse. The more we learn, the better prepared we are to help one another.

NAMI is a fantastic resource and help for anyone dealing with mental health issues. With state chapters nationwide, you can often find a nearby peer or family support group. My community doesn’t offer a family support group. But neighboring Owatonna and Northfield do.

No matter who you are, where you live, dealing with a mental health issue or not, we need to work harder on ending the stigma, raising awareness and showing compassion. I am committed to that. I hope you are, too. This affects all of us, even if you don’t realize it.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “Focus on mental health: What you can do, what “we” can do”

  1. NAMI is a great organization in so many ways. As someone who did a short field experience in the mental health arena I understand all too well that the resources don’t always get to those who need them the most. Events like the ones you write about certainly help raise awareness. Little by little we can change the negativity and misunderstanding associated with mental illness. Like anything it takes time.

  2. So many suffer in silence. I have seen both from the inside and outside of this issue. There is no greater loneliness than when a person suffers and no one cares, no one listens, no one supports. Or if at first everyone seems to care and then just takes off when you need them the most. There is no magic cure, no time that can pass for many dealing with this issue that will make it go away. But, each person contains in themselves compassion and empathy and if that is shown to someone who is struggling with mental illness the chances of dealing with it in a positive successful healthy way are promising to end isolation. No one ever gets to a point of managing their illnesses without understanding and supportive help. Name calling, isolation or telling someone to “just get over it!” Is not the solution and only adds to the distress of those suffering.

    • Thank you, Paula, for this insightful and honest comment. I appreciate that. You’re right about the isolation and the advice of “just get over it.” Really? Why do we say these things to people with mental illnesses? We wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes or cancer to “just get over it.” We have a long ways to so in listening, understanding, compassion and support. But we’re moving toward enlightenment. Most of the time.

      • I certainly hope so. It would be great leaps in helping people who deal with mental issues day in and day out. Unfortunately, it will be too late for many of my friends who felt they had no where to turn or no one to turn to when they were dealing with PTSD and depression upon returning from combat zones.

      • Paula, I am sorry for the loss of your friends. So difficult.

  3. I know how important this is to do away with the stigma. More than likely a good majority will either deal with their own mental illness or know someone close to them that is dealing with mental illness. I have seen mental illness from a domestic violence standpoint, from serving in the military and experiencing war, a I can no longer do this and take their own life standpoint and from an unsolved murder from someone that had such hatred/jealousy. The organization I work for has stepped up and is working on a mental health coalition. Mental health can affect physical health and vice versa and needs to be treated as a whole. Physicians are now starting to ask patients about their mental health while in for their physical health. Thanks for sharing this important topic today and bringing it out into the open to discuss.

  4. Larry Says:

    On the positive side, in the history of the world, there have never been more treatments and resources available to those living with these issues. Or more understanding from the general public about the subject.
    One example is St. Paul teachers striking for more mental health professionals in classes. They are negotiating for kid’s mental health and well-being because they value it more than income! Is there more to do, of course, but great progress has been made.

    • I agree. Great progress has been made, but there’s more to do. Thank you for pointing out the efforts of the St. Paul teachers and their request for those additional mental health workers. I also heard a media report yesterday (and I hope I have this right) about proposed legislation in Minnesota to train all teachers in mental health. That seems like a really good idea. They are on the front lines and positioned to reach kids at a young age who may be struggling with their mental health.

  5. Susan Ready Says:

    Your readers have posted many insightful comments on the issue of mental health. i agree there are many more resources available the past years as awareness has been heightened certainly the organization NAMI has played a significant role but yes more work needs to be done to reach and help those who stand by silently and need help. As a former educator I believe it is crucial to make available more resources in the schools starting in elementary. Hopefully more money will be allocated to schools in the near future and mandatory teacher training on mental health. The key here is immediate resources available not just continuing talks..

  6. Kiandra Says:

    I am sorry to hear of the police man in Faribault. Such a tragedy! Prayers for his family. Thank you for sharing the Go Fund Me page as well. We live in Northfield and frequent the library where this sculpture Waist Deep is feature. Speaking as someone who has struggled with mental health issues, I am grateful for it and the message it is sending. There is help and it is ok to have mental health concern.

  7. valeriebollinger Says:

    In church one Sunday, after a series of three sermons on mental health our pastor asked anyone who has been touched by mental health issues either themselves, or their friends or family, to stand. There were very few people remaining in their seats.

  8. Gunny Says:

    I think the best therapist is our best friend. In our discourse with them we vent what angers us, we enjoy and share that which pleases us. Our best friend understands us and if we mess up, their observations and comments are more readily accepted and understood. This discourse between friends engages both in politics, religion, work and private life So, make friends. Make GOOD friends! I have to tell you, some therapists would probably disagree. There are times when we need to see a therapist – maybe even take some type of medication. On the other hand, people like me do not even want to take aspirin! The less medications I am on, the better I like it!

    • Your advice about friendships is important. But I’m thankful you added the part about sometimes needing a therapist and meds. Yes, yes, yes. Relationships and conversation with friends are just part of the component. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking professional help when needed.

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