‘Campaign to Change Direction’ hopes to get people talking about mental health

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Nine central Indiana cities and dozens of college campuses are joining forces to launch the “Campaign to Change Direction.” The effort centers on educating the public about five warning signs for mental health issues and the best ways to respond.

The Women’s Fund of Central Indiana led the initiative to bring together leaders from places like Indianapolis, Carmel and Fishers for a comprehensive approach to dealing with mental illness.

“We don’t know the signs of emotional suffering but they are there,” said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, who started the Campaign to Change Direction. “We may see them we don’t recognize them. We walk past them.”

The Campaign to Change Direction was launched a couple years ago in hopes of reducing the stigma associated with talking about things like depression. The program urges people to recognize five signs that someone may be suffering from emotional pain: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness.

“The hope is that people will begin to normalize the conversation about mental wellness and not be afraid to ask for help,” said Jennifer Pope Baker, executive director of Women’s Fund of Central Indiana.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett was among those in attendance for the campaign launch. He said the campaign goes hand in hand with the city’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system in Marion County.

“Over 30 to 40 percent of those currently in the Marion County Jail suffer from some kind of mental illness,” Hogsett said. “If you want to look at substance abuse the numbers are even higher.”

He said he wants to put an end to the cycle of people going in and out of jail by connecting them to right mental health resources.

“How many jail beds can we avoid building and how can we get treatment to people who are desperately in need of it?” Hogsett said.

Hogsett said informing the public on what to look out for can empower families to intervene in a person’s life before they end up in a jail cell.

Just north of Indianapolis, the city of Fishers is dealing with other consequences of unspoken mental health troubles.

“Last year 13 people took their lives and another 47 made serious attempts to take their life,” said Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness.

He added the city has only seen three homicides in 20 years. Untreated mental health issues create a bigger threat.

“This is not an urban or suburban issue, this is a human issue,” Fadness said.

According to Mental Health America, 20 percent of Hoosier adults live with mental illness and 12 percent of youth have had at least one depressive episode in the past year.

The Campaign to Change direction aims to open the door to tough conversations and connect people to treatment.