Campaign to 'change direction' of mental health launching in St. Charles

 
 
Updated 5/28/2015 7:38 PM

A regional effort of a national campaign that simplifies the signs of emotional suffering is launching Tuesday in St. Charles.

The Campaign to Change Direction aims to help people recognize the signs of emotional distress and begin to treat mental health as equally important to physical health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It was formed out of the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013 after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in which a man with a history of mental illness killed 26 students and educators.

The St. Charles effort will be one of only a few regional campaigns in the country, said social worker Kristen Kauke, who is launching it with a free event from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Carnegie Room at St. Charles Public Library, 1 S. 6th Ave.

"The idea of increasing awareness of mental health and reducing stigma has been in my heart being a clinician for last 16 years," said Kauke, a therapist at Creekwood Associates, a private mental health agency in St. Charles.

When she read about the national campaign in April, she knew she'd found a way to bring "momentum" to local discussions about how to best meet the needs of people with mental health conditions and reduce the shame they feel when seeking help.

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"We're really conversation-starters to create awareness," Kauke said.

The local campaign will aim to increase knowledge of the signs of mental conditions, create a common language to discuss the topic that isn't "scary" or "out there," and identify gaps in mental health services so those needs can be met.

Nationally, the Campaign to Change Direction starts with teaching people the five signs of emotional distress -- withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, personality changes and poor self-care.

During Tuesday's campaign launch, Kauke's boss at Creekwood Associates, psychiatrist Eric Nolan, will cover the five signs and how to identify them.

Behaviors such as withdrawing from typical social activities or contacts, becoming uncharacteristically angry or anxious, suddenly showing major personality changes, engaging in risky activities or substance abuse, neglecting personal hygiene or becoming hopeless or overwhelmed could mean someone is experiencing a mental health condition.

In Campaign to Change Direction posters and logos on Facebook and Twitter, the signs are illustrated as simple orange faces showing different expressions with cartoon eyes, eyebrows and mouths. One looks angry, another puzzled. One looks blah, another is frowning and the last is shedding a tear.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kauke said the faces illustrate the campaign's attempt to make the five signs of emotional distress as easy to understand as the signs of a stroke or heart attack.

Organizers at the launch will host a resource fair so people can learn about services available from organizations such as Centennial Counseling Center in St. Charles, TriCity Family Services in Geneva, Med Fitness in St. Charles, Creekwood, Matrix Sports Camp in Carol Stream and Yoga on Monroe in St. Charles.

After Tuesday's launch, Kauke said the campaign will plan monthly "coffee talks" so people can get used to including mental health in everyday conversation. Kauke also wants to gather input about what can be done better to address mental health needs. She wants to offer more Mental Health First Aid classes in the far Western suburbs and look into developing a level of care for people who have expressed suicidal thoughts that is more intensive than counseling sessions, but less costly and intimidating than hospitalization.

"The work really starts after the launch," Kauke said. "I'm a doer. I don't want to just sit and talk."

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