A Look Inside: Behavioral Health

Learnings from our Most Recent Community Assessment

Jack was a shy, quiet high school freshman who enjoyed playing Xbox, writing stories and learning random facts. He was a good student, earning A’s and B’s in all of his classes. But halfway through his freshmen year, something changed.

Jack suddenly starting refusing to go to school. Sometimes, he refused to even leave his room. Large crowds of people would make him panic. His dad called him “lazy” and didn’t understand Jack’s struggles. His mom, Maria, felt helpless, unsure how to get her son out of the house. His attendance suffered, and he was referred to juvenile court.

That’s when he received a referral to a nonprofit program at Boys Town. With support from case manager Neddy, Maria started to get more comfortable finding and utilizing community resources that could help her son, even without the support of her husband. As doctors, teachers, his mom and Neddy rallied around him, Jack slowly began to learn how to cope with and manage his anxiety.

Now, he’s attending school almost every day. He was taken off probation early, and the judge has been impressed by his progress. Jack leaves classes three minutes early, which helps him avoid the crowds – and his panic attacks. He’s looking forward to graduating and is thinking about going to college to study journalism or law.

 “They (Boys Town) know these different types of programs or, like, techniques that I can use,” said Jack. “I take deep breaths and give myself positive thoughts that overcome the negative ones.”

Jack shared his story with United Way of the Midlands during our community assessment this summer. Staff conducted more than 50 hours of interviews with individuals who are benefiting from local nonprofit programs as part of the assessment.

These interviews shed light on an important fact: the struggles Jack was facing aren’t uncommon. In fact, every client mentioned some factor of behavioral health during their interview, ranging from addiction and mental health to abuse or social isolation.

More about our Community Needs Assessment

As United Way of the Midlands works toward our goals, we remain as committed as ever to maximizing the impact of your dollars. We want to ensure they are funding programs that address the most pressing needs in our community – and the needs that are going unseen or unmet.

Because it’s been five years since our last inventory of community needs, we knew it was time to reaffirm our understanding of the issues affecting people in the metro. With funding from Mutual of Omaha and the Omaha Community Foundation, we conducted a mixed methods study that identified community priorities and ultimately validated our areas of investment. The study consisted of a structured review of more than 90 articles and studies, a sophisticated analysis of census data, data collection among community programs and more than 50 hours of interviews.


1. What behavioral health is

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Mental health impacts every aspect of daily life – from how we feel to how we manage stress – and is an integral part of health. People facing mental health challenges may experience diagnosable conditions, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders or bipolar disorder. There are many other examples of conditions that relate to mental health, and not everyone facing a mental health challenge has a diagnosis.

The term “behavioral health” builds upon this definition by incorporating habits. Substance abuse, eating disorders and gambling addiction in addition to mental illness are all typically considered behavioral health.

2. How behavioral health is connected to poverty

Among the clients we talked to as part of the community needs assessment, behavioral health was the most mentioned factor or topic affecting their stability. Behavioral health challenges can make other challenges – including those related to education, housing, transportation, work and family – harder to overcome.

Compounding the problem, behavioral health services are hard for people living in poverty to access. According to the Community Health Needs Assessment, 6.7% of Metro area adults living in poverty report a time in the past year when they needed mental health services, but were not able to get them – this is more than two times the metro area average of 2.7%

3. What this means for our community

Behavioral health is a topic of growing importance both within the healthcare field and across the entire community, and it was frequently mentioned as a key community challenge in local studies and the Community Health Needs Assessment.

Despite the growing recognition of behavioral health’s importance, social stigma and isolation are still experienced by many who are facing behavioral health challenges. This can delay or prevent treatment for these individuals and impact other areas of their lives. Take Jack. His father’s stigma about his anxiety made it difficult for him and his mom to acknowledge the problem and receive help. Until he was referred to the Boys Town program, Jack’s anxiety became an attendance issue that impacted his learning and self-esteem.

But thankfully, our community is rallying together to address behavioral health and the stigma that surrounds it.

Programs focused on mental and behavioral health across the community are providing access to therapy and counseling with trauma-informed specialists and working to reduce the stigma attached to seeking or receiving help. See below for a full list of the programs that United Way of the Midlands funds.

In addition, several partners, including United Way of the Midlands, are part of a collaborative community effort to implement a Community Health Improvement Plan that addresses the overarching priority of mental health across the Omaha-Council Bluffs, four county region. The primary effort of the regional health improvement plan will focus on mental health– and you can help guide and shape the response our region’s response. Visit https://livewellomaha.org/healthhappenstogether/ for more information.

4. How you can support people facing behavioral health challenges

Here are just a few of the many ways you can offer support:

  • Educate yourself about mental health and mental illness.
  • Reach out to people who may be struggling and invite them to coffee to remind them they aren’t alone.
  • Share personal experiences receiving assistance or facing mental health challenges.
  • Remember that mental and behavioral health are often long-term challenges. Don’t expect immediate results.
  • Encourage professional assistance and early intervention to prevent a situation from escalating.
  • Donate to United Way of the Midlands to support local behavioral health programs.

If you are in need of services yourself, you can contact United Way of the Midlands’ 2-1-1 Helpline. Representatives will connect you with a nonprofit program that meets your needs.

5. How your investments in United Way make a difference

When you invest in United Way of the Midlands, 92 cents of every dollar goes right back into local nonprofit programs that form a circle of support for people like Annie. Because we know how important programs serving survivors of trauma and abuse are, UWM supports 9 programs that provide behavioral healthcare.

In addition to investing your dollars in area programs, United Way of the Midlands is also part of a collaborative community effort to implement a Community Health Improvement Plan to address the overarching priority of mental health across the Omaha-Council Bluffs region.

Funded Behavioral Health Programs: 
  • Charles Drew Health Center –School-Based Intervention
  • Child Saving Institute, Inc. – Child and Adolescent Therapy
  • Community Alliance Rehabilitation Services – Crossroads to Health and Recovery
  • Completely KIDS – Mental Health Services
  • Heartland Family Services – Professional Counseling, Behavioral Health
  • Jewish Federation of Omaha – Mental Health Care and Counseling
  • Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. – LFS Behavioral Health Programs
  • Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. – RSafe Therapies
  • The Salvation Army – NE – Community Counseling and Wellspring Program

If you’re in need of counseling, food pantries, utility assistance or another human service, our 2-1-1 Helpline is here for you. Simply call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211 to find local programs that will help you address challenges by providing basic needs, education and financial supports.

About the Author

Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.


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