Addressing the National Mental Health Crisis, Locally

With headline news stories serving as constant reminders--mental health continues to be a growing topic of national conversation, and rightfully so.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, in 2014, about:

  • One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue

  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression

  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression

Those statistics are undoubtedly similar or possibly even higher today, and affecting a growing number of individuals and families locally.


As a part of its “health” focus, the Columbus Area United Way helps fund many programs with local partner agencies including ARC, CASA and the Center for Survivors. These three agencies provide support and advocacy for: individuals with developmental disabilities; abused and neglected children in the legal system; and victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, teen dating violence, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking respectively.

Beyond providing support for partner-agency-run programs, the United Way has also begun looking for ways to address gaps in mental health service offerings for adults and adolescents who may not yet be in an identifiable crisis, but are not in a stable mental or emotional state.

One way they’ve done this is by seeking out existing area programs already providing valuable services, and encouraging applications for Community Impact Grants to expand their capacity.


Impact Grants are funded by the United Way’s permanent endowment and are awarded on an annual basis. Some recent examples of grants addressing mental health are:

  • Royal Family Kids Camp: children that attend this camp have experienced neglect, physical, emotional and /or sexual abuse.  The goal of the camp is to give them hope and positive experience.

  • Northeast NE Child Advocacy Center: a child-appropriate/child friendly facility that conducts forensic interviews (an expert interviewing children), medical evaluation and victim support and advocacy for children suffering from child abuse/neglect.

  • Northeast Nebraska Suicide Prevention: the goal of this program is to talk about mental health openly, address suicidal thoughts, and provide a message of hope.

The United Way has also partnered with Platte County Juvenile Services to promote “Your Life Your Voice” in the Columbus area. is a website from Boys Town which serves as a resource for youth in crisis.  By texting, chatting, blogging, calling, or emailing, kids can reach out directly to certified Boys Town Counselors for help in any situation. There is also a mood journal app where kids can track thoughts, feelings and moods right on their phones.

A billboard about this new program is on display at the 18th Street and 33rd Avenue intersection, and was funded by a community-based aid grant awarded to Platte County Juvenile Services by the Crime Commission.    

Bringing this broad and often confusing topic down to a relatable level is important as mental and emotional health issues continue to arise at younger and younger ages. Says Jason Harris, Executive Director of Special Education and Student Services at Columbus Public Schools, “We have many students that face a variety of challenges that prevent them from giving us their best.  This has been an ongoing challenge when it comes to supporting students.”

Coming alongside public school educators, partner agencies and community-run programs providing mental health services are all ways the United Way is looking to strengthen mental and emotional health for those in-need in our community. But we can’t do it without Y-O-U.

Please consider a year-end or monthly gift to the Columbus Area United Way’s 2018-2019 Annual Campaign to help grow programs like these. To set up your donation, visit or call the office at 564-5661.

This is the last in of a six-week series highlighting the various areas of impact of the Columbus Area United Way. To read all past articles, click here.