Brain Health Awareness Month Creates More Connections in Eastern Iowa

In order to raise awareness for brain health and brain illnesses, the local and statewide observance in October for Brain Health Awareness is active in eastern Iowa. Organizations and their leaders hope to gain traction to create more awareness for and access to brain health services and to reduce the stigma long associated with mental illnesses.

A grassroots organization in eastern Iowa, with statewide reach, is called Brain Health Now. Led by Debi Butler of Dubuque, this statewide initiative uses personal outreach, marketing, advertising and social media outreach to change the mindsets present in so many Iowans. She notes, “Words are powerful, words matter. The stigma surrounding mental illness can be as detrimental to someone’s life as the disease itself. Society has to understand that the brain is an organ and can get sick too. The stigma follows words such as mental illness and mental health which prohibit people to seek the help they need. We need to reframe the conversation from mental illness to brain health and treat it as it should be.”

Butler’s background is in psychology, and the brain health topic is near to her heart. “My passion for starting Brain Health Now is due to my brother Steve who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1985. The stigma impacted my brother in a very negative way and I watched him hide from society because he did not feel like he belonged.

It’s very important to treat brain health issues just like we treat other organs in our body that can be compromised. It’s not a choice or a character flaw to have a brain health issue. We need to normalize the lives of the one out of five people who experience a brain health issue,” she says.

Since 2014, there have been 14 mental health regions in Iowa, who receive and disperse local and state funding to provider organizations who support mental health and disability services for Iowans. Organizations like Brain Health Now seek to connect individuals and families in need with the resources in those regions that are geographically closest to them.

Mental Health/Disability Services of the East Central Region (ECR for short) is one of those 14 regions. ECR serves people in the following counties in eastern Iowa: Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, Jones and Linn.

Mae Hingtgen, CEO of the ECR, notes that the purpose of the ECR and its 13 companion regions across the state is to collaborate with disability service providers, healthcare providers, school districts, law enforcement, the judicial system, legislators, and countless direct care providers to strengthen the network of support services for adults and children with disabilities of all kinds.

“ECR and the other 13 regions in the state don’t provide the direct services to individuals and families in need, but we, as regions, provide the funding to the organizations who do provide those services. Our goal is to build an awareness that it’s okay to need help for brain health concerns and that help is available in our area. Organizations like Brain Health Now and insightful leaders like Debi Butler are an excellent example of how a grassroots group of people can step up to make a difference, become part of a larger network, and raise awareness for the needs and solutions available for brain and disability support services,” she says.

Hingtgen also notes that, “As we have all worked our way through COVID and the stressors it has brought to the world, the state of Iowa and to our communities in the ECR, we know that brain health issues and the need for services is at an all-time high. It is critical for us to get the word out even more frequently to let people know that there is help available … compassionate, immediate, and free or low-cost help for both short-term crises and long-term issues that people and families experience.”

For more information about Brain Health Now, the ECR, and resources in the nine counties of the ECR, visit these websites for more information:

www.brainhealth-now.org  and www.ecriowa.org

Brain Health Now is a grassroots organization dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding the term mental illness. Over 50 million Americans have diagnosable brain health disorders each year. These disorders remain shrouded in misunderstand and stigma, which is one reason why Brain Health Now wants to reframe the conversation away from mental illness and toward brain health.

 The East Central Region (ECR) is a partnership between nine counties in eastern Iowa to provide comprehensive mental health and disability services to individuals in eastern Iowa. Iowans have a regional base of services which meet statewide standards to address their needs. Counties pool their resources and offer an array of services to improve the health of Iowans.

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