By Brenda L. Holmes
If laughter truly is the best medicine, Mental Health America Hendricks County is offering a prescription.
The agency is preparing for a new fundraiser called “Laughing for the Health of it.”
Tammi Jessup serves as executive director for the non-profit organization based in Avon.
“We look at our county to see how we can serve those with mental illness and to promote overall good mental health in the community,” Jessup said.
“One in four people will have a diagnosable mental health issue during his or her lifetime.
It’s important to be comfortable when talking about mental health.”
She said the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., once again brought up the issue of mental illness.
“It’s important for people to know that only a very small percentage of mentally ill people act out in any kind of violent way,” Jessup said.
“The mentally ill are more likely to be a victim of violence than to perpetrate a violent act.”
She said treating a mental condition is just like treating a medical condition.
“Treating earlier is always better,” she said. “The longer it goes untreated, the worse it gets.”
MHAHC has a referral system for those in need of services.
“We have an extensive list of therapists,” Jessup said. “We also do a lot of education.”
She said the organization serves about 6,000 children a year through its youth programming.
“We serve children in preschool through high school,” she said. “We also do a parental education program called, ‘Active Parent.’”
MHAHC also helps organize several support and socialization groups for the community.
“We also do things for individuals in nursing homes,” Jessup said.
“At Christmas time, every person living in a nursing home in Hendricks County receives a gift from us. These are people who may otherwise be forgotten.”
The program’s Youth Advisory Board focuses on preventing and educating people about suicide, self injurious behaviors, and eating disorders.
“The Youth Advisory Board hosts a concert every year,” Jessup said.
“Between each band, a person will speak. This past year, it was very powerful. We had parents who had lost a child to suicide speak.”
The Kids on the Block is a puppet program that has been around since the 1970s. The puppets can address a range of topics for local youth. Schools, churches, and just about any organization that deals with children can book the Kids on the Block to perform.
The youth also promote the GPR program.
“And yes, it sounds like CPR on purpose,” Jessup said. “It stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. It is like CPR. Anyone can learn and help stop suicide. We provide them with information so they can identify potential symptoms of suicide.”
MHAHC also partners with several other organizations to help provide community programs such as Stewards of Children, Hendricks County Kids Fair, Family Fun Day, and more.
“We can also help people with mental illness who may be having trouble with an agency,” Jessup said. “We can go with them to an appointment and help speak for them. We are always more than willing to do that.”
Mental Health America was once called the Mental Health Association. It changed its name and affiliations several years ago.
“Now every county does it differently,” Jessup said. “We’ve found it’s easier for us to know what needs to be done locally.”
MHAHC is also one of four United Way agencies headquarted in Hendricks County.
“We also own our building,” Jessup said. “The board held a capitol fund drive and was able to purchase this building.”
Those who donated to the campaign were honored with a leaf on a tree painted in the organization’s office.
“We rent the other side of our building to a dentist,” Jessup said. “All of our building expenses are covered by the rent we receive. So all the funds we raise go to the programs we do for the community.”
Other income sources including fund raising and fees for the Our Child Our Divorce program.
“Our wreath sales is one of our major fundraisers,” Jessup said.
“We are always looking for other ways to raise funds.”
“Laughing for the Health of It” will run from 6 to 9 p.m. April 20 at the Avon-Washington Township Park Pavilion. It will include a dinner catered by Stone Creek Catering.
“Then we will have a comedy show with at least three comedians who have agreed to perform,” Jessup said. “We will have one headliner and a few opening acts.”
There will also be a silent auction. “The funds raised will go to our general operating funds,” she said.
“It will also go to fund our programs. It should be a very fun night.”
The Mental Health America Hendricks County office is at 75 Queensway Drive, Suite A, Avon. For more information, call 272-0027.