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Mental Health America of Boone County (MHABC) is a 501(c)(3) organization and a chapter of Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association), the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. With approximately 300 affiliates nationwide, MHABC represents a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation—every day and in times of crisis. MHABC envisions a just, humane and healthy society in which all people are afforded respect, dignity and the opportunity to achieve their full potential free from stigma and prejudice.
Its mission: “Mental Health America of Boone County promotes and develops programs providing safe refuge from traumatic life events and address intellectual, emotional, physical, recreational and cultural needs of the youth of Boone County and their families.”
A Brief History Overview
Established in 1954, MHABC opened its office primarily as a resource and referral center for those needing assistance with mental health issues. Over the decades, MHABC has grown into a multiprogram organization that addresses a myriad of areas within the county, including domestic violence housing and programming, mental health resource and referral, suicide prevention, family crisis intervention, before and after school care and enrichment, and its Young Scholars Preparatory Pre-K.
MHABC CEO/President Pascal Fettig has worked in Boone County for over 25 years. Fettig was born and raised in France and resided in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. when he was 18 years old. He is married and has five children, 10 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, who all reside in Indiana. Fettig is an engineer by trade.
“I literally packed two suitcases and flew over to the U.S.,” Fettig shared. “My [biological] father’s family is from Indiana, so I came to Indiana to be as close to family as I could. I introduced myself to my family for the first time when I arrived here.”
Fettig shared that he has a background of abuse and is empathetic to the fears and challenges survivors of abuse and neglect deal with and struggle to overcome.
“I was in foster care—in France—for nine years and finally went back to my birth mother when I was 10,” Fettig said. “The ‘Child at Risk’ saga continued, so I decided that I was not going to let that happen to my kids. I had an opportunity to help the county’s youth and adults, and I chose to do so.”
Fettig met Jane Taylor who was the former executive director for MHABC prior to Fettig stepping into that role. Fettig’s been with MHABC since 2005.
Transitioning From Victim to Survivor
Fettig and his staff have adopted the philosophy that victims of domestic abuse are survivors—even as they are going through the process of recovery.
MHABC specializes in helping those who are visibly in need of help and show physical signs of abuse as well as those who are suffering mental and emotional pain and trauma.
Fettig added, “You don’t have to be black and blue on the outside to be black and blue on the inside. People need to understand that.”
Ending the Stigma of Abuse
“The problem is the stigma that we fight regarding mental health and domestic abuse,” Fettig expressed. “It’s something that [by law] we are all mandated to report—not just the professionals—and that is what the survivors fear. They fear that once it’s reported, the government will come in and take their children. What they need to understand is that I’m going to report the abuser—not the survivor. But that fear of the legal entanglement that they could get into is tough to deal with, and it only postpones their recovery.”
Fettig continued, “You would think that family support is important, and it is, but, in some cases, the family will tell a survivor not to seek treatments because of what “people” are going to think. And sometimes, the family members are enablers. People need to understand that mental health is part of one’s whole health. You may be as healthy as you can be, but then you develop a mental health issue, and you can become physically ill. Mental health can be very detrimental to physical health.”
Overcoming Obstacles to Receiving Help
Fettig shared that the county has $1 million available for mental health services and programs, and MHABC receives $400,000 a year from Boone County. Fettig questioned, “The county commissioners work hard, and they pay a lot of money for our noninsured to be cared for by the community’s mental health center. The question is, if Boone County has $1 million available for mental health [services/programs], then why do we still have a bunch of people not getting treatment?”
Fettig continued, “The answer is, it’s how the system was designed. I’ve testified in court about it, and it’s gotten to a point where it’s going to have to go to the federal level. And you can have all the life skills classes and treatments that are needed, but we need to get to a point where the survivors can function so that they can understand and benefit from these classes.”
Another interesting issue is that of being noninsured or underinsured. If you were to arrive at an ER with obvious life-threatening wounds, the ER staff is not going to turn you out onto the street if you do not have insurance or are underinsured. So, why then is it permissible to turn someone away who is in need of emergency mental health treatment if they are noninsured or underinsured?
Fettig simply stated, “That’s a question that needs to be answered.”
Boone County is fortunate in that it has several organizations that address the gamut of mental health and domestic abuse issues that plague our county—especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though substance abuse and addiction issues had been increasing in Boone County prior to the start of the pandemic, and cases continue to skyrocket well into 2021.
Domestic abuse and mental health deeply affect the children who are involved as well. MHABC works with the survivor and their children to make sure that if they need to relocate from their home, they can remain in the county and the children can attend their school of origin even if they have moved out of their school district. Schools are required, under the McKinney-Vento Act, to provide certain rights to homeless students that include waiving proof of residency and providing transportation to the child or children that qualify under the McKinney-Vento Act. Fettig emphasized that MHABC has a wonderful relationship with the county’s school districts and their McKinney-Vento liaisons.
Having gone from a temporary shelter modality that would only provide housing for 24–72 hours, Fettig and his staff changed their focus to providing longer-term housing for survivors who become homeless as a result of leaving their abusers.
“We work on two things: stability and independence. That is really important. We do the best we can to make sure the survivors get back on their own two feet and are independent. And if they get into a new relationship, we want them to go into it with the mentality that the relationship can lead to love, or they can leave [the relationship] in a heartbeat. We’re really big about empowerment. It’s not that I’m against relationships, it’s that I want them to go into a positive relationship.”
What Can You Do for Someone You Suspect Needs Help?
“If you don’t feel that you have the skills to help, you do have the skill to call somebody,” Fettig stated. “You can call us—we’ll jump in there, and you will have done a great service to whoever you called about. When it comes to the well-being of this county, it’s going to take everybody involved to make sure that survivors get the proper help and proper resources. In my opinion, there is no logical reason why somebody can’t receive the help they need in this county.
For more information on Mental Health America of Boone County, please visit mhaboonecounty.org.