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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 18, 2017

Iowa Wesleyan nursing students see mental illness in new light

May is mental health awareness month
May 10, 2017
Photo by: Karyn Spory Iowa Wesleyan University’s nursing students say their perspective on mental health and healthcare changed during the course of their junior year. Associate professor of nursing, Lisa Kongable, second from the left, says her students spend time in different treatment settings during the course of the semester. Above, Kongable poses with five of her eight junior students.

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


Before the semester ended and Iowa Wesleyan students left campus, Lisa Kongable’s junior nursing students spent an afternoon drafting letters to local, state and national legislatures regarding mental health, the need for easier access to treatment and open conversations about the often-stigmatized matter.

“There’s a broad spectrum of mental health throughout Mt. Pleasant,” said Cassidy Hays-Kujala. “What’s surprising is the lack of care.”

Kongable, an associate professor of nursing at Iowa Wesleyan, said her students visited as many of the mental health treatment facilities in the area as possible. And each of her students came to the same conclusion – there’s a much higher demand for mental health services than supply.

“A lot of mental health centers have waiting lists,” she said.

Kongable said due to long waiting lists, many individuals end up going to the hospital for acute care needs. “They go to the emergency room and they just sit there for hours, even days before they can find them a bed. This has been the trend since the closing of the Mt. Pleasant Mental Health Institute.”

Mark Short said he was struck by the holes in the mental healthcare system.

“We saw a patient that needed help,” he recalled. “She needed treatment, specific care. She was going from a locked unit back home, but she needed day treatment and an additional treatment, ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy), but the insurance would not cover both so in a few days she ended right back in the locked unit.”

Kongable said unfortunately this is a common sight within the healthcare system. “She knew what she needed to continue but (insurance) wouldn’t pay for both (treatment options). As a result, in a week she relapsed and was back in the hospital setting.”

“Sometimes we try to cut on costs and it ends up being more,” Sara Alameddine said, explaining that if the patient had received both prescribed treatment options, she likely would not have ended up back in the hospital, which ended up costing more than both treatments combined.

Through the course and working with individuals with different types of mental disorders, Kongable’s students began to see mental illness in a different light; something they would like to share with legislators and community members.

“At the beginning of the semester, I had a student who came in with the mindset that this stuff – mental illness – was not real, that it was a sign of weakness,” relayed Kongable. “But the student had a transformation. They recognize it as a true disorder and they are going to try to do some sort of internship work or apply for a position with the psychiatric healthcare field.”

Katrina Escobar said she had some knowledge about mental illness before taking Kongable’s class. “Or at least I thought I did,” she said with a chuckle. “This is a society that views mental illness as a weakness. You think the person is weak or vulnerable or is just sad or anxious, but this is a disease of the brain. There are biological reasons people have these thoughts or feelings, which can’t be helped.”

She continued, “What has been the most eye opening is people don’t always fall into the categories we think of with mental illness. It’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate. There is a scientific reason why this happens and it’s important to address that.”

Escobar feels the best way to combat the stigma and misunderstanding around mental health is to talk about it.

“I think mental illness tends to come across, even here in the U.S., as this scary concept. No one wants to be told they’re mentally ill and I think as a nurse it will be our job to advocate for the patient, advocate for the community and offer education,” she said.

That advocate and education, in honor of May being mental health awareness month, came in the form of letters to legislators that will shape healthcare policy.



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