LIMA — A non-profit agency born in Allen County 12 years ago from a coalition of 50 agencies and governmental offices devoted to providing health care services continues to expand its goal of preventing mental illness.
The Prevention Awareness Support Services agency got its beginnings in 2001 as Partnership for Violence Free Families and included representatives of Allen County hospitals, schools, mental health providers, juvenile court and prison, children’s services and Head Start, among others. The common goal was addressing mental health challenges.
“Members of the coalition came together to say, ‘What’s missing, and how can we fill this gap in mental health services?’” according to Rick Skilliter, who serves as the executive director of PASS.
While the agency initially served citizens in Allen, Auglaize, Hardin and Union counties with mental wellness and prevention programming, over time it grew. Today it has three offices serving the counties of Allen, Auglaize, Delaware, Hardin, Mercer, Morrow, Paulding, Union and Van Wert. A new office in Van Wert opened in January.
“We are an example of your tax dollars at work,” Skilliter said. “PASS is funded through a contract with the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board and by the graciousness of the communities we serve.”
In the realm of mental health services, there are two distinct and separate tracks. There are agencies whose focus is on treatment and others whose specialty is the prevention of situations that can lead to mental health struggles.
“We at PASS do not do counseling. All we focus on is prevention — from the cradle to the grave,” Skilliter said. “Our focus is recognizing pending trauma in individuals as well as the community as a whole.”
Community trauma, Skilliter said, can affect individuals in the form of poverty, violence or simply a social disconnect. Through educational programming in schools and by meeting with at-risk individuals, PASS officials hope to slow the onset of mental health issues or to prevent those issues from happening altogether.
Staff members “talk about what we know works in prevention and what we can do to change the environment of the community for the better,” Skilliter said.
Sharing techniques for self-health improvement and identifying the warning signs of pending mental health issues are at the heart of the overall mission for PASS.
“We can’t always stop mental health problems from happening, but by linking those who need help with the proper service providers they are stronger and the community is stronger,” Skilliter said.
PASS offers school-based programs focus on substance use prevention, pro-social emotional learning and suicide prevention. It is through those school programs that mental wellness challenges sometimes come to light.
“Bullying is something we talk about, and vaping is a big issue right now. We offer techniques for self-help improvement and try to spot the warning signs that accompany the onset of mental health issues,” he said.
The agency’s primary adult prevention program provides an overview of mental wellness and developing mental health challenges to enhance early recognition and intervention to prevent challenges from becoming worse, the director said.
“We try to get as much information out there as possible,” said PASS Director of Development Donna Dickman.
Rick Skilliter, executive director of Prevention Awareness Support Services, and former executive head and current director of development Donna Dickman lead a team of dedicated mental health professionals.
PASS serves eight counties in Northwest and West Central Ohio, holds an annual Suicide Prevention Walk among its many other activities.