If it wasn’t clear beforehand, the tragic shooting at Greenwood Park Mall emphasized it — Johnson County has a desperate need for more mental health resources.
The shooting on July 17 that left three people dead shook the community and exasperated existing mental health concerns.
Without addressing those issues, the county will struggle to thrive. Local leaders, spearheaded by Duke Energy, hope a new initiative achieves that goal.
“It was clear that we have an ongoing mental health issue. It’s everywhere. Now, the need has increased, because we have all of these individuals and families in our own communities, our own backyards, our own neighbors, who are struggling with their own sense of security,” said Jean Renk, government and community relations manager for Duke Energy.
The Johnson County Community Foundation has created a sustainable, long-term program to fund mental health services, support and counseling for local residents.
Kick-started by a $10,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, and with the support of area businesses, nonprofit groups and individuals, the fund will focus on addressing unmet mental health service needs.
“Our community providers have seen demand for mental health services skyrocket over the last several years,” said Gail Richards, president and CEO of the Johnson County Community Foundation. “With limited resources, it has become more challenging to meet the many needs of our residents, which have only increased since the tragedy at Greenwood Park Mall.”
“Through the generosity of Duke Energy and other partners, we hope to give providers more tools to help individuals access the care they need and instill a sense of hope in the community.”
An increased focus has been placed on mental health in recent years as more health and community leaders have understood how it can impact all aspects of society.
According to Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey conducted annually in all states, Johnson County residents experienced an average of 4.6 poor mental health days each month. Throughout the county, 14% of adults experience frequent mental distress — 14 or more poor mental health days each month.
The issue is one of the strategic focuses of Aspire, the county’s local economic development organization, as it works to best position the county to new employers.
“It’s not just making a deal to land a company. It’s what we need to do to make sure our community is as attractive as it can be to land a new company. What are we doing to development our talent and our workforce and our residents to make it as appealing to new employers,” said. “Mental health awareness, accessibility to services, is something that’s part of our economic strategic plan.”
The importance was only made more stark following the mall shooting, which started the discussions about a mental health-specific fund that started shortly after the mall shooting. Stan Pinegar, Duke Energy state president for Indiana, approached the company’s leadership team about what they could do to help the community through the Duke Energy Foundation.
The foundation is the philanthropic branch of the company, providing provides more than $2 million in charitable grants each year in the communities where Duke Energy operates.
They discussed a number of options, from supporting a specific organization to providing funding to local police departments.
“Duke Energy doesn’t succeed as a business if our communities aren’t strong. We want to put our foundation dollars and other funds and efforts into supporting everyone in the communities we serve,” Renk said. “If the community isn’t strong and growing and thriving, we’re not doing well ourselves. So that’s the constant motivation of our work.”
Renk reached out to Richards at the Johnson County Community Foundation, a frequent collaborator with the Duke Energy Foundation. They discussed a way to create a fund that would support the existing agencies and efforts to address mental health within the county.
Richards put together the structure for the fund, while Duke Energy pledged to seed it with the first $10,000.
Aspire has committed to supporting the fund and spreading word about it in the business community.
“We are so thrilled to see Duke seed a fund for mental health services, support and awareness,” Maslowski said. “We, as a business community, care about what Duke has done, and we’d encourage other companies and individuals to support the fund. It makes our whole community better, and well.”
Grants from the fund will be distributed on a recurring, annual cycle to agencies that apply to the community foundation. Donations to the fund can be made through the community foundation.
The creation of the fund allows other businesses, groups and individuals who want to support mental health locally to do so in a centralized way.
“We also were hearing from other businesses and individuals who wanted to help. This is an immediate way to have an impact,” Renk said.