For local residents struggling with suicidal thoughts, addiction or depression, behavioral health care is the way to regain control of their lives.

The problem is navigating the system to find the right care, and local health officials are in the process of improving those options.

Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County is working to improve how local residents identify behavioral health problems and receive the care they need. Working with the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University, the organization wants to determine gaps in existing care.

A clearer picture of the scope of behavioral health treatment will allow health workers to put together programs and solutions where they’re needed most.

“We’ve known for a long time that access to behavioral health care is a huge gap,” said Jane Blessing, executive director for Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County. “There are a lot of different areas to make improvements. We’ve got to figure this out overall.”

Behavioral health is a broad term for any kind of mental and emotional well-being. Common behavioral health problems are anxiety, depression, substance abuse and mental illness.

Improving access to behavioral health care is a top priority for the partnership’s Access to Care team this year. The organization already focuses on signing up more people for the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan health care program.

Since the program has expanded to include more people and offers coverage for behavioral health issues, the goals fit perfectly together, Blessing said.

“For the first time ever, there are going to be thousands of Johnson County residents who have access to behavioral health care,” she said.

‘Taking care of your mind’

According to the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, county residents suffered an average of about three poor mental health days each month. The county reported 12 suicides in 2009, the most recent year for which those statistics are available.

The annual County Health Rankings showed that 104 mental health providers are located in the county, which has a below-average ratio of mental health providers to residents.

Already, 13 county agencies and organizations are working with Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County to treat behavioral health problems. Another 25 support groups are available to treat behavioral health issues.

The challenge is working with each of those entities to figure out what needs aren’t being met, said Michelle McMahon, coordinator for Communities that Care Johnson County, an agency focusing on alcohol, drugs and tobacco prevention in youth.

“We think a lot about physical health — eating right, exercising, taking care of your body. Behavioral health is taking care of your mind,” McMahon said. “It’s important to take care of your mind. It’s a huge part of your body and huge part of your life. If it’s not right, nothing else in your life is going to be right.”

The Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County has teamed up with Communities that Care Johnson County to put the survey up. Communities that Care received a grant from the Indiana Prevention Resource Center to develop the survey.

“We want to find out what is already happening in the community with behavioral health needs and what kind of intervention is needed before treatment — what can we do before treatment is needed,” McMahon said. “We want to look at that early intervention.”

Erasing a


Team members helped create the survey, which was sent out at the end of May.

The survey was distributed online to health care providers, social service agencies, the media, educators and parents. The hope was to get an idea of what they are seeing in terms of treating behavioral health, McMahon said.

Survey questions ask for basic information, such as sex, age range, race and role in the community. People are asked to rank the importance of behavioral health issues, from anxiety to family conflict to sexual orientation and gender identity supports. Sections allow them to write in what they feel the biggest contributors to crime and substance abuse are.

With the results of the survey, leaders can begin to fix the problems.

“It seems like there’s a stigma that, if you access behavioral health care, then maybe there’s something wrong with you,” McMahon said. “It’s not something that people like to talk about it.”

The survey will continue through June and possibly July. Once the results are in, health officials will examine what is missing from the behavioral health picture.

Hard data about behavioral health in the county will allow organizations to make a more compelling case when applying for grants to start new programs, McMahon said.

The hope for Communities that Care is that by August the first programs stemming from this survey will start. Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County also will look at the results to assess their programs, Blessing said.

At a glance

Behavioral Health Survey

What: A short survey sent out to the community to find out what issues and problems exist in the behavioral health system.

Who: The Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County working with Communities that Care Johnson County and the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University.

Goal: To find the gaps in existing behavioral health coverage and develop programs to fill those gaps.

How to take the survey: Go to

By the numbers

Johnson County Behavioral Health

3.2 — Days per month the average county resident experienced a bad mental health day.

8.8 — Rate of suicides per 100,000 people in the county.

12 — Total number of suicides in the county in 2009.

104 — County mental health providers

1,399 to 1 — Ratio of people to mental health providers in Johnson County

750 to 1 — Ratio of people to mental health providers in Indiana.

503 — Drug abuse violations in Johnson County in 2012

973 — Alcohol-related violations in Johnson County in 2012

95 — State-funded treatment sessions for alcohol-related addiction in Johnson County, 2010 to 2013.

35 — State-funded treatment sessions for heroin abuse in Johnson County, 2010 to 2013.

39 — State-funded treatment sessions for marijuana or hashish abuse in Johnson County, 2010 to 2013.

18 — State-funded treatment sessions for methamphetamine abuse in Johnson County, 2010 to 2013.

36 — State-funded treatment sessions for opiates and other synthetic drug abuse in Johnson County, 2010 to 2013.

SOURCE: Indiana Prevention Resource Center

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.