By Carol Zander

Mental Health/Disability Services of the East Central Region (ECR) wants to help residents in the nine-county region locate services available to them for mental health, substance abuse, housing, transportation, and other community support services. MentalHealthU (MHU) is a free smartphone app available on Google Play, the Apple Store, and at

“How can we help the entire regional population know what services exist, especially crisis services? It is not enough that the services are available if people who need them don’t know they exist” declared Mechelle Dhondt, CEO of the East Central Region. How often could a tragedy or arrest involving a person experiencing a mental illness have been prevented if the people involved, family, or friends knew who to call for intervention and services?

Take crisis services for example. Until 2014 after mental health regionalization, only the urban counties had mobile crisis outreach services. Now the nine-county East Central Region funds the Iowa Helpline, a toll-free number and website to reach trained mental health counselors for talk, text, or chat. The counselors can provide referral and support, or dispatch the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team to anywhere in Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, and Linn Counties. The region funds crisis stabilization beds, a lower level of care than inpatient psychiatric beds, freeing up those hospital beds for people who need them.

MentalHealthU (MHU) smartphone app lists local agencies that provide community services to the ECR, and more. The app includes information on recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness, what to say to a friend or loved one who may be experiencing a mental illness, and resources to guide in locating services and supports. Stigma busters are included to dispel myths and misinformation about mental illness. Considering that twenty percent of the population will suffer from some type of mental illness in their lifetime, we can no longer ignore the subject and the need for services.

For ECR residents who do not own a smartphone, you can call the Iowa Helpline at 1-855-800-1239, or visit More ECR resources can be found on the East Central Region website at