O'Fallon Progress

Karla Smith Behavioral Health in O’Fallon provides vital service to community

The signs of anxiety and depression. A discussion on youth and mental health

Jennifer Katzenstein, director of psychology and neuropsychology for John Hopkins All Children's Hospital, speaks on common mental disorders.
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Jennifer Katzenstein, director of psychology and neuropsychology for John Hopkins All Children's Hospital, speaks on common mental disorders.

A family turned their grief into a call to action, and today, the Karla Smith family is grateful for the ongoing community support for its for mental health services center.

Karla Smith Behavioral Health, now 14 years old, moved into the renovated former city hall at 200 N. Lincoln in O’Fallon more than a year ago to expand their programming and clinical services. They provide tailored treatment for young adults and families in seeking recovery, age 16 and up. They also offer support groups and education — speakers are available.

“Meetings are added and updated all the time,” said Emily Smith, executive director of KSBH.

Their mission is simple — and necessary — as they learned following Karla Smith’s suicide at age 26. A full-of-life honor student and leader, on the student council and lead in the school play her senior year, Karla fell into a major depression in college, at age 19. Two years later, she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. After seven years of up-and-down struggles, periods of stability and instability, she took her life Jan. 13, 2005.

Emily explained that Karla’s parents, Tom and Fran, and her twin brother, Kevin, first created a foundation in 2005 to help families and their loved ones cope with mental illness and suicide grief. Emily is married to Kevin. Now the operation is the Karla Smith Behavioral Health outpatient center.

Emily said one in four people are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, but only 20 percent receive help and have access to services.

“We want to help broaden the awareness. There is help available — that is the most important thing,” she said. “People are now willing to look for ways to help. It is certainly not as stigmatized as it was 15 years ago. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”

In addition to erasing the stigma and perceptions related to mental illness, their mission states they want to empower people to overcome mental and behavioral health challenges through an integrated therapeutic model that supports the clinical, emotional, educational and spiritual journey into lifelong recovery and independent living.

Financial need is no obstacle to treatment. Emily said 85 percent of those seeking treatment will receive some form of financial aid.

“We want to help the people struggling to navigate mental health. Recovery is a lifestyle and the process requires a lot of work. There is such frustration. But we want people to know they are brave and courageous to seek help,” she said.

They are currently promoting a fundraiser, Taste of O’Fallon, set for 6-10 p.m. May 10 at Gateway Classic Cars. Patrons will enjoy samples from local restaurants and shops, all to help to support KSBH’s mission and provide services to those in need.

“This isn’t just a job for me. This is our passion,” Emily said.

Among its services, KSBH addresses depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“The disease is not a character flaw. There is a real serious problem in every state, no exception, with drug use, especially opioids. It doesn’t discriminate. It affects everyone,” she said.

“We want them to know their life is worth living. You matter,” she said.

The staff strives to provide a warm and comfortable environment at their downtown center.

“We want them to feel safe. They can walk in the door and be confident that they can talk freely, and they will have every opportunity for help once they open that door,” Emily said. “That is the first step. There is power in sharing.”

“Be well. Be strong. Be You.” That is their message.

“We put so much hope into it. People need to know we’re here to help. There is so much joy in the building as people rebuild their lives,” Emily said. “People do care and the support for our cause has been overwhelming.”

For more information, visit https://karlasmithbehavioralhealth.org.