Compass 2021: Taking a deeper look at Mental Health

    Throughout the counties covered in the 2021 Compass Now Report (Buffalo, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau, and Vernon in Wisconsin and Houston in Minnesota), mental health was voted as the #1 or #2 top need by community stakeholders. In the consideration of top needs, mental health was identified separate from substance use disorders. Though many people suffer with both, mental health is recognized as something that affects all community members.

    Compass Now uses two survey methods to gather data. A survey was sent to random households throughout the region. We refer to this as the Random Household Survey (RHS) or Random Sample. The same survey was made available for any community member to respond. We refer to this as the Convenience Survey (CS) or Convenience Sample. The two sets of responses are analyzed separately due to the different collection methods.

    Demographic differences exist between the Random Sample and the Convenience Sample: the Convenience Sample was younger, more female, more racially and ethnically diverse, and included more people who rent than the Random Sample.

    Consistently throughout each county in the report, Random Household Survey participants rated their overall mental health as good or excellent (85-92% of respondents). However, Convenience Sample participants rated their overall mental health lower in each county, with 54-68% rating their overall mental health as good or excellent. The same pattern exists for access to mental health care and affordability of mental health care. Random Household Survey respondents rated their access and ability to pay for mental health care better. Both groups rated the ability to pay for mental health care lower than the ability to access care.

    The survey also asked about the level to which respondents cared about the issues of mental health and mental health stigma. Overall, Convenience Survey respondents had a higher level of concern about the issues of mental health and mental health stigma. See Figure 1.

    Chart showing Compass survey results regarding mental healthFigure 1: RHS and CS Response Comparison of Survey Questions Involving Mental Health

    Secondary data trends were analyzed alongside the Compass survey results to get a better understanding of what is happening in the community. In our region, the average number of mentally unhealthy days experienced by adults has risen, as well as the percentage of adults reporting frequent mental distress. In 2018, the most recent year of data, the average number of mentally unhealthy days in the past month for adults ranged from 3.6 to 4.5. The range in 2014 was 2.8 to 3.5. Additionally, between 12% and 15% of adults in the region experienced 14 or more days of poor mental health per month in 2018. The range in 2014 was 8% to 11%.

    Mental health has been identified as a top need in the region for several iterations of Compass. It has proven to be a complex problem with no easy solutions.

    At Great Rivers United Way we fund programs that help support resilience and mental wellness as well as programs that help support those suffering with mental illness. Additionally, we are involved in community coalitions and efforts to raise awareness of mental health and develop solutions and strategies for the community.

    What can businesses do? All people have mental health and encouraging mental wellness is one role that employers can do to help support employees. Offering an Employee Assistance Program as a benefit is one formal way to support employee mental health. Another way employers can support employees is to recognize mental health similar to physical health. Normalize using sick leave for mental health and work with employees to accommodate mental illness through flexible hours, remote work, or other solutions that will help the employee complete work.

    What can you do? Normalize talking about mental health. We all have mental health and we need to eliminate any shame associated with mental illness. Learn the signs of suffering. The Campaign to Change Direction lists the signs of suffering as: personality change, agitated,  withdrawn, poor self-care, and hopelessness. If you see these signs – reach out. In fact, keeping in touch with friends and family in general is something that everyone can do to support mental health and reduce isolation – for yourself and for those you care about. Everyone likes to know that someone is thinking of them and you will feel good in doing so.

    Our challenge to you: give someone a call to check in. You’ll be glad you did.

    Learn more about the mental health data in Compass Now at

    If you or someone you know are in need of mental health resources, call 211. If someone is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or text HOPELINE to 741741.

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