08/22/10 — Wayne Mental Health Association continues to serve community

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Wayne Mental Health Association continues to serve community

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 22, 2010 1:50 AM

The Mental Health Association in Wayne County is alive and well, and will continue to provide local services, its executive director, Amy Roux, says.

Her announcement comes on the heels of last month's report that the Mental Health Association in North Carolina was shutting down services in the wake of highly publicized financial woes.

The 70-year-old state organization had long been a voice for people with mental health disorders and those who care for them, as well as a state advocate for services that would benefit agencies like the Mental Health Associ-ation in Wayne County.

What it did not offer, Mrs. Roux quickly pointed out, was any sort of financial support. MHA of Wayne County has always been an independent affiliate, she said, along with about a dozen others in the state.

"We want the community to know that we were associated with the N.C. Mental Health Association, but that was the extent of it," she said Monday. "We did not receive benefits as far as funding. That's very important because of the financial problems that they have come under."

The collaboration and networking among other community associations will continue, Mrs. Roux said, and the groups have been meeting regularly of late.

There is also still an affiliation with the national organization, she added.

"They're helping us to find a state level advocate that will still help us advocate for mental health," she said.

In a recent e-mail to supporters, she further clarified what is now the former relationship with the state office.

"We manage our own finances, file our own tax returns and have the benefit of our own engaged and knowledgeable board of directors," she wrote. "The Mental Health Association in Wayne County is fiscally sound. In short, our programs and activities will not be affected by this development."

Efforts are being made now to maintain operation of existing programs, such as one of the organization's most popular, Lunch and Learn.

"We usually try to have at least six but sometimes more than that in the year," Mrs. Roux said. "We currently have no standing funding -- in the past it was by United Way -- so we rely heavily on our community and smaller grants through programs and businesses to operate. Perhaps 80 percent of all funds goes to programs and staff salaries, which is just me."

While MHA of Wayne County had not been reliant on the state office financially, the timing of the announcement has still been critical.

"It's very tough right now with the economy and there's a lot of nonprofits competing for grants," she said. "Funding is not where it used to be.

"It has been a struggle but our community does seem to support the Mental Health Association, and I hope that they continue in the future. That's very important with the programs, to keep them up and running."

Mental health as a whole has already taken several drastic hits in recent years, Mrs. Roux said -- between controversy over mental health reform efforts and negative publicity surrounding Cherry Hospital, it all plays into the long-held stigma that accompanies the subject of mental illness.

"There's always going to be that stigma, but you're not alone in this," she said. "We can't help what's happening in our brain just like if you have cancer or another disease. ... It's really difficult for people to come forward and admit it."

The local MHA has long relied on two factors -- education and advocating for those with mental illness, the executive director said.

"We have our mental health screening online, through our website, www.mha-wc.org," she said. "It's five different mental health screenings that they can take and it's free and anonymous."

Among the screenings is one for teens, targeting eating disorders and depression, Mrs. Roux said, adding that even school guidance counselors have utilized the site as a valuable resource.

MHA of Wayne County has been around for 48 years, said Mrs. Roux, who came on board six years ago.

Going forward, she said she is confident that its services and programs will not only be needed more than ever, but that they must be made available.

In addition to funding to keep the agency afloat, she said human resources remain in demand.

"We're always looking for volunteers to assist with our programs, especially with our mental health screenings that we go out and do in the community," she said. "And of course, we're always looking for board members that can assist with the decision-making and sitting on the committees that plan the programs."