‘You deserve to be happy’: Kendall County promotes first aid for mental health

Jetze Rojas, left, and Lisa Holch of the Kendall County Health Department provide mental health services to county residents. They are seen here on May 23, 2023 at the department's offices.

The stigma associated with mental health problems often discourages people from seeking the help they need and deserve.

Yet at any time, The Kendall County Health Department has a caseload of at least 250 county residents receiving mental health services.

“If you go to counseling, it’s not because you’re weak, it’s because you deserve to be happy,” Mental Health Services Director Lisa Holch said.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, highlighting the nearly one in five American adults living with a mental illness.

Whether it is depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or one of many other mental health challenges, help is available at the Health Department’s offices at 811 W. John St. in Yorkville.

“This is real,” Health Department Executive Director RaeAnn VanGundy said. “We want to have people walking out of here feeling better.”

“We want to have people walking out of here feeling better.”

—  RaeAnn VanGundy, Kendall County Health Department executive director

Part of the Health Department’s strategy for getting people the help they need is its Mental Health First Aid program, designed to show anyone how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness in a family member, friend or co-worker.

Jetze Rojas is a behavioral health clinician, a licensed clinical social worker and the first aid program’s instructor.

The key, Rojas said, is listening and asking questions.

When someone exhibits depression, is not engaging in his or her usual activities, or no longer shows up to be with a social group, for example, the first step is to ask if anything is wrong.

“We train people in our first aid class to notice those changes,” Rojas said.

A simple “What’s going on?” can open the door to more questions and help determine if the person might be experiencing a crisis, Rojas said.

People should not hesitate to ask directly if someone is contemplating suicide, Rojas and Holch said.

Acknowledging the person’s pain creates a connection that is likely to get someone to open up about their feelings, Holch said.

The class teaches how to assess for the risk of suicide or self-harm, how to listen non-judgmentally and provide reassurance and information. The course also instructs participants in how to encourage appropriate professional help, self-help and other support strategies.

The monthly first aid classes are held virtually and fill up quickly. Residents interested in the daylong session should contact the Health Department.

There are about nine counselors and clinicians on the Health Department staff who take patients through an initial intake process and evaluation, followed by counseling, treatment and ultimate discharge.

“We work to build coping skills for our patients,” Rojas said.

The causes of mental illness are varied.

“There are legitimate chemical imbalances that can cause mental health problems,” Holch said. Physiological conditions such as a thyroid problem or even a tumor may be the cause.

Holch recounts a story in which a person suffering from depression was completely cured of the disorder after a brain tumor had been identified and removed.

Therapy isn’t just for people with clinical depression.

Rojas practices what she preaches and regularly sees a therapist to maintain her own well-being.

While the department’s services are not free, they are based on a person’s ability to pay and designed not be a barrier.

Private insurance carriers are trending in the direction of providing mental health coverage, VanGundy said, while legislative efforts are underway to push for higher reimbursement rates.

Sometimes, after discharge, a patient may begin to experience symptoms again and return to the Health Department for help.

“If you come back it’s not because you’re a failure, but because you remember what works,” Holch said.

The Kendall County Health Department may be reached by calling 630-553-9100.