APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and officials in the Fox Valley are sharing new data on recommendations that could improve the mental health of adults.

The Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection held a special event on Thursday morning, where they talked about numerous things that could potentially improve the mental health of adults in the Fox Valley.

Some of those recommendations include raising the minimum wage, increasing walk-in services for mental health care, speeding up the state licensure approval process for new therapists, and adopting social connectedness strategies. Those are just a few of the over 40 recommendations outlined in the report.

Officials say the recommendations are based on findings from a 2021 survey distributed to 1,259 adults from Calumet, Outagamie, and Winnebago County.

The impetus for the survey was the alarming and growing suicide rate in the Fox Valley, which increased by 66% between 2010 and 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated mental health challenges for the overall population.

“We believe this report can serve as a road map for many organizations to support and inform new projects, strategic plans, and priorities aimed at impacting adult mental health and suicide-related behaviors,” said Sarah Bassing-Sutton, The Connection’s Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator, who authored the report.

Some of the risk factors that contributed to poor mental health included having an annual household income of less than $50,000, feeling isolated, spending several hours of non-work time per day on screens, and inadequate sleep.

“Four factors repeatedly rose to the top as having significant impact on adult mental health and suicide risk, including income, isolation, rest, and screen time,” said Beth Clay, Executive Director of The Connection. “The recommendations in the report place the obligation on the system to change, not the individual. Our hope is that our community will use the data and recommendations to improve upon our collective efforts to build communities where people can flourish.”

The report also highlights the disparities of two populations that are placed at higher risk for mental health challenges: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ).

Recommendations to address systemic inequities include calling on public and private healthcare systems to prioritize trauma-informed care practices as well as the movement toward culturally-informed care.