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In his 2023 State of the County address, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon focused on mental health

Greene County Commissioner Bob Dixon delivers the 2023 State of the County Address at Hill City Church in Springfield
Greene County
Greene County Commissioner Bob Dixon delivers the 2023 State of the County Address at Hill City Church in Springfield

Dixon said there are "outstanding local organizations providing services," but the region needs to do better in making sure people get help.

Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon gave the State of the County Address Thursday at Hill City Church at Chestnut Expressway and Trafficway. But the speech took a surprising turn.

Dixon began his address by saying Greene County is in a strong position because of "outstanding work" by elected officials and employees. But he said tax revenues are declining. Recent sales tax receipts were down 9.4 percent from the same month last year, he said, and this September was the fourth month that saw a decrease. Revenue is down three percent for the year compared to last year.

But after he took just a couple of minutes to announce those figures, the topic pivoted.

“I am here to call for our community to face the exasperating local mental health challenges facing citizens, caregivers and all of those seeking to help others,” he said.

Dixon told the crowd gathered for the monthly Springfield Chamber of Commerce Good Morning, Springfield! event it’s a crisis that is real. According to Dixon, despite “the many outstanding local organizations providing services in a variety of areas” it’s hard for people to get the services they need.

“Our local programs are in need of vigorous examination if we are going to continue to grow and to prosper as a region,” said Dixon.

The purpose of his address, he said, was to "convey to the thought leaders in our region, the crisis we're dealing with, the fact that we've got to come together in an even better way to help solve it."

The more mental health is talked about, he said, the more the stigma surrounding it, which can prevent people from getting help, is lessened.

The 2022 Ozarks Health Commission found that the Springfield community has a higher rate of depression than the region, state and country. And the suicide rate in Springfield is 60 percent higher than the national average.

Dixon pointed to a high rate of mental health issues at the Greene County Jail.

“We have 55 inmates on the waitlist to get into the State Psychiatric Hospital just to regain competency in order to stand trial," he said. "That’s just one county. The sheriff’s mental health unit at the jail is full, he said, and the psychologist there has said that 70 percent of those in the jail have a diagnosable mental illness.

He showed a video he had first viewed at the National Association of Counties last summer in which Dr. Drew Pinsky discussed the history of mental illness in the nation and how people have moved from psychiatric hospitals to jails, nursing homes and the streets.

Dixon said addressing mental illness will result in lives saved and dollars saved as well as increased productivity.

He said it’s going to take collaboration to make sure people are getting the help they need. He envisions putting together a group to address the issue of mental health, and he invites anyone who has ideas about how the community can do better to reach out to him.

He pointed to efforts like the Healthy Living Alliance and its campaign focusing on men's mental health. Greene County Commission Rusty McLachlan is on the alliance's 2023 Advisory Council. He said coalitions like the Healthy Living Alliance and the work they do need to be "scaled up."

"I believe we can find solutions, we can work together, and we can address these challenges," said Dixon.