On Tuesday, June 27, 2017, the Women’s Health Council of Benton Harbor, Michigan, facilitated a panel discussion to open up a dialogue about the importance and value of destigmatizing mental illness.

The Women’s Health Council of Benton Harbor (WHC) was formed in early 2016 to assist with the Implementation Strategy of Lakeland Health’s 2016-2019 Community Health Needs Assessment. As mental illness emerged as the #1 priority health need of community residents, the WHC planned a series of local town hall events to address mental health issues. Our goal is to collaborate with the local healthcare institutions while working closely with community residents to develop creative solutions that can improve health outcomes in our community.

The event on June 27 drew a good crowd of approximately 70 people. Many men and women from the neighborhood — some local business owners and local healthcare workers (from Lakeland Health, Riverwood Center, and private-practice psychologists and psychiatrists were in attendance). It was gratifying to see healthcare workers come as the council recognizes that the systems, and those who work within them, can also benefit from the conclusions of the health assessment and integrate those lessons into their practice and procedures.

Participants vocalized their appreciation of the event.  Council member and panelist, Jolita Burton, spoke about the value of being assertive with healthcare workers and persevering in the doctor search until one finds the proper fit for treatment and personality: “If my shoes are hurting my feet, I’m going to change my shoes.” Another audience member, a psychotherapist, shared the importance of the “vulnerability work” we’re doing adding, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.”  Lynn Todman shared, “As I’ve said many times before, we (SW Michigan) are not going to get a mass influx of mental health professionals. We are going to have to figure out out to address our mental health challenges. We’re going to have to figure out how to “self heal”. The work of the WHC represents an important step in that direction.”
We are excited to share the work of the Council with the community and hope to attract even more people at the next event.  We also welcome any Benton Harbor women to join the Council or participate in sub-committees that are being discussed. Our work will be most effective when the greater community is involved in it.
Benton Harbor schools have inquired about the Council putting programming together for their students. They’ve mentioned doing a panel at the high school. We’re in preliminary discussions as to what this might look like and will present the idea to the entire council in August.