WATERLOO, IA – Mental illnesses are biologically based brain diseases that affect an individual’s ability to think, feel and relate to others and the environment. These disorders are more common than cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Cedar Valley United Way’s community impact teams, the volunteer groups that direct and monitor grant funding for the organization, identified mental health as a priority based on community needs assessments and local data.
United Way invited community stakeholders including law enforcement organizations, local hospitals and doctors’ offices, the schools, legislators and community organizations to provide their input and expertise to begin solution-focused dialogue. This group, the Cedar Valley Mental Health Planning Coalition, first met in June 2015 and continues to meet monthly. 

What the Data Tells Us

  • 1 in 4 American adults (61 million) will experience a mental health problem/illness in their lifetime. In Black Hawk County, this equates to 29,000 individuals. 60% of these individuals never receive any treatment for a variety of reasons including: stigma, lack of health insurance, transportation barriers and a shortage of providers.
  • 1 in 5 children in the US has a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. In Black Hawk County, this equates to roughly 5,500 youth.
  • 1 in 10 children have a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED) that causes significant impairment in their ability to function at school, at home or in the community. In Black Hawk County, this equates to roughly 3,000 youth. Almost 50% of these youth never receive any treatment. 
  • Mental health symptoms present themselves on average 7 years before formal diagnosis. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness occur by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. The opportunities for prevention and early intervention are significant.
  • Untreated mental health problems have been shown to contribute to:
    • Poor academic performance & school dropouts
    • Homelessness
    • Unemployment or underemployment
    • Legal difficulties/incarceration
    • Teenage childbearing
    • Substance abuse
    • Violence
    • Relationship problems
    • Suicide
    • Victimization

Mental Health Numbers and Resources

Iowa ranks:
  • 47th in the US in the number of psychiatrists
  • 47th in the US in the number of psychologists
  • 51st in the US in the number of psychiatric beds (2 per 100,000 versus the recommended 50 per 100,000 with 1.2 of those used as forensic beds)
  • Iowa was one of 12 states that decreased mental health funding from 2015-2016
Resources in Black Hawk County:
  • Psychiatrists — 10 full time (3 are hospitalists), 4 part time
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners — 6 full time
  • University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics has 53 psychiatrists on staff

What Works? 

Research suggests that delaying treatment results in the development of more complex, difficult to treat illnesses. Virtually every community survey that has been done in recent years has identified mental health needs as a priority. Yet, since 2011, 41 states have cut their mental health budgets despite predicting an increase in the number of people requiring mental health services.
What type of mental health programs and services work?
  • Evidence-based practices
  • Prevention and education
  • Early intervention (school-based)
  • Outreach or in-home services
  • Crisis intervention training for law enforcement
  • Mobile crisis programs
  • Jail diversion (pre and post)
  • Integrated health homes (care coordination)
  • Injectable medications
  • Transportation
  • Patient assistance programs
  • Open access

Priority Items for Cedar Valley Mental Health Planning Coalition

  • Increasing school-based mental health services
  • Increasing our community’s professional treatment capacity
  • Decreasing the burden on our emergency departments and law enforcement/jails of responding to mental health crisis situations

Information included above was taken from the Mental Health America Report, National Alliance on Mental Illness at, National Institute on Mental Health at, US Census Bureau, and Treatment Advocacy Center at

For more information, please contact Debbie Roth at