Mental health focus of new position at La Crosse YMCA

The La Crosse YMCA recently created a new position to address a topic that isn’t easy for everyone to talk about. The new mental health director hopes to change that, however.

Until a few weeks ago, a mental health professional was only involved with the Y’s Teen Center, but now the emphasis has spread organization wide. In hopes of improving the mental health of the whole community.

The YMCA is known for improving a person’s physical health, whether it be in the swimming pool, lifting weights or running on the treadmill. But now the Y wants to help people improve their mental health as well.

That’s where Mental Health Director Sarah Johnson comes in.

“My position will really be to work with all members at the Y, all departments at the Y, all directors, all staff at the Y, to help strengthen what we do in terms of helping people with their mental health,” Johnson said.

She said, for some reason, our culture has a tough time talking about mental health, but it affects everyone.

“We want to really be able to help normalize that conversation about mental health and help people get help before it’s a problem,” Johnson said.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse recently started a similar program and has seen great success with it.

“We couldn’t be happier, it’s literally taking our club to the next level in terms of being able to serve kids,” Executive Director Mike Desmond said.

The two organizations are part of a growing trend locally emphasizing the importance of mental health, and working together to maximize their impact.

“We’ve discovered that when you reach out to the county, reach out to the police department, reach out to the Y, reach out to the school system that we can multiply that effect that we have on kids,” Desmond said.

Johnson said a person’s mental health is just as important as their physical health, and makes up how we think, feel and act. That’s why she said it’s important for people to be comfortable talking about mental health issues and working to improve it as much as possible.

“We are really building this in response to what we see is important for our community and beyond,” Johnson said.

By talking about mental health at the YMCA as a whole, Johnson said that can have a ripple effect and improve communication surrounding the topic outside of the Y as well.

The Mental Health Director position was created through a partnership with Gundersen Health System and the La Crosse Community Foundation.

Johnson is located at the La Crosse YMCA, but will be working at both the La Crosse and Onalaska locations.