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City health partners up for mental health talks

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE — District 4 Alderman Casey Nelson has dealt with anxiety issues for years, and he’s well aware of how uncomfortable it can be to bring up the topic of mental health in polite company.

Even if the stigma around conditions of the mind has shrunk over the last 50 years, some vestige of it still hangs about.

It shouldn’t be that way, and maybe it won’t be, if people start opening up about it.

That’s the impetus behind a new mental health program in De Pere.

“For a lot of people, it’s still really hard to talk about mental health,” Nelson said. “One of my goals was to make people more comfortable talking about mental health and mental illness.”

The program meets monthly and will feature a different mental health topic each month, with psychiatry residents leading discussions and members of the community sharing their stories.

The floor will be open for questions and discussion from those in the audience.

Nelson, who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Milo C. Humpfner Outpatient Clinic in Green Bay as a pharmacist and serves on the De Pere Board of Health, has helped spearhead the mental health initiative.

The program is a partnership between the psychiatry residency program of the Medical College of Wisconsin (which has a satellite location on the St. Norbert College campus) and the De Pere Board of Health.

Since the psychiatry residency students do their four-year residency at the Veterans Affairs clinic, Nelson naturally became a point person.

Casey Nelson

“I talked with them (the Medical College of Wisconsin) to see if we’d be able to help each other out on this, and they’re big on getting out to the community and building a relationship with De Pere and the community, so they’re excited and on board with it,” Nelson said.

The program’s inaugural session in late August drew several times more people than expected — 42 versus the anticipated 10 or 15.

“They just kept coming through the door,” Nelson said. “There’s really an appetite for this type of conversation.”
He shared his own experiences of living with anxiety at the first meeting because he didn’t think they’d be able to get a volunteer from the community lined up.

But then he worried that it would be hard to find someone to share their story at the next meeting.

He needn’t have been concerned.

“Someone came up to me after the meeting and said ‘I want to talk about depression,’ and another resident said they want to speak on another topic, so it’s really encouraging that we won’t have to work too hard to get people to share their stories,” Nelson said.

The next session, on depression, will be Sept. 26. A few other topics likely to be on the roster for the future include drug abuse, alcohol abuse and medication.

“We’ll start with broad topics and dive in,” Nelson said.

The program is the last Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the De Pere Community Center, 600 Grant Street.

All are welcome (not just De Pere residents).

For more information, call the De Pere Health Department at 920-339-4054.

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