Assessing Peoria's Mental Health: Action needed

DeWayne Bartels

Dr. Ryan Finkenbine says Peoria is an oasis of mental health awareness and services in a world largely devoid of help for those with mental health issues.

But, Finkenbine said, Peoria rates high because most of the rest of the country is abysmal when it comes to awareness and services for those in need. Despite Peoria’s strengths, he said, there is still a great deal of work to be done here.

Finkenbine said he has been in Peoria only 10 months, but has a unique perspective into Peoria’s needs as the new chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

Awareness needed

Finkenbine said Peoria shines in the area of awareness compared to most cities in the nation. He said the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Tim Ardis Foundation for Hope and State Rep. Dave Leitch (R-Peoria) among others are increasing awareness about mental illness and trying reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

But, he said, no matter how good awareness is here there is always more work to be done.

“Most people have a general awareness. There is, however, a lack of awareness of how prevalent the problem is,” Finkenbine said. “The starting point is improving the level of understanding. There is still stigma.”

Finkenbine said, unfortunately, a good deal of the awareness work being done is aimed at those who are already aware, in essence, preaching to the choir.

“It is going to take the media and education at earlier ages to address this issue effectively,” he said.

Resources needed

Aside from awareness, Finkenbine said there is still a lot of work to be done because there is such a huge population of people with mental health issues. He said about 25 percent of Peoria’s population is suffering from one or more of the more than 400 recognized mental health disorders.

“Of those numbers 10 percent have severe issues,” Finkenbine said. “Only about half of those with mental illness are getting any help. An even lower number are receiving adequate help.”

Finkenbine said in an ideal world people would treat their mental health the same way they do their dental health.

“People should have their mental health assessed every six months,” Finkenbine said. “It would take years to get that kind of widespread attitude.”

Finkenbine said not mental health screening is being done in Peoria, but, he said, efforts to increase that are underway. He said it makes financial sense.

“Early detection makes a big difference in treatment and cost,” he said. “There’s a shortage of mental health providers here, but people can be seen.”

Finkenbine came to Peoria to oversee an effort to create more mental health providers here. Finkenbine leads the growth of the college of medicine’s training program for psychiatry residents in collaboration with Methodist Medical Center. He is developing a forensic psychiatry practice and support the clinical, educational, and research efforts of the department.

By 2011, Finkenbine said his efforts and those of the hospital will bring 16 new psychiatrists to Peoria. He said the program he heads offers financial aid from Methodist Medical Center to psychiatric residents at the college of medicine in exchange for staying in Peoria after graduation.

Finkenbine said the Methodist/UICOMP effort are a step in the right direction, but fall short of the need. He said the need for people willing to advocate in the political arena for more resources in great nation-wide. In this arena, Finkenbine said, Peoria is a leader.

“This is one of them ore active area’s I’ve seen. Rep. Leitch is one of the most aware politicians I have ever met,” he said. “Across the nation we need a grassroots program like we have here targeting politicians.”