At Bright Ideas' recent meeting, the brainstorming group came up with action items related to mental health.

"After our very first meeting, mental health was something that has come up continually," said Ashley Evans-Smith, SPARKodc project manager.

SPARKodc -- Social Partners Advocating for a Resilient Kentucky Owensboro-Daviess County -- now hosts meetings on the first Friday of each month. Any community member who cares about helping vulnerable populations, building resilient families and ending adverse childhood experiences is invited.

Evans-Smith characterizes the meetings as action-oriented brainstorming sessions.

A group of about 30 people discussed negative impacts on mental health in Daviess County.

"There's a lack of psychiatrists," said RonSonlyn Clark, senior director of substance abuse and prevention services at RiverValley Behavioral Health. "It's hard to recruit psychiatrists."

Also, there is a stigma associated with seeking assistance with mental health issues, Clark said. That stigma creates a barrier to accessing care.

"Society looks at illnesses of the brain very differently than it looks at illnesses of the pancreas," she said.

The group discussed depression among senior citizens, who often deal with grief after losing spouses. Many older residents face poverty as well.

"Everyone has mental health issues at some point in their lives," said Diane McFarling, also of RVBH.

The Bright Ideas group decided on these action items:

To educate the public on mental health issues, the committee will reach out to RVBH officials about providing Mental Health First Aid training to churches, volunteers and workplaces that interact often with senior populations.

Evans-Smith will contact RVBH to learn whether Daviess County's largest mental health agency has a shortage of providers. She will also talk with Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce officials to see if the chamber may be able to use incentives to recruit mental health providers to the area.

And she plans to contact the Kentucky Counseling Association to learn more about the possibility of changes in state regulations to allow licensed professional clinical counselors to expand their services, which could help alleviate the mental health provider shortage.

For more information about Bright Ideas, including dates, times and locations of meetings, go to SPARKodc.org.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com.

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