Mayors: 'It's OK to not be OK'

Apr. 18—Mayor Chris Jensen of Noblesville came to Terre Haute on Thursday to discuss NobleACT, the city's successful mental health initiative that Jensen hopes will be adapted throughout the state.

Wednesday's mental health roundtable, hosted by Terre Haute Mayor Brandon Sakbun and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce at The Hub (former Clabber Girl building downtown), was attended by representatives of both cities' first responder agencies and other officials.

Noblesville Police Sgt. Ben Lugar and NobleACT K9 Therapy Dog Luna were prominently featured as everyone discussed the work each community is doing for mental health.

NobleACT is comprised of a team including three police officers each with a therapy dog, three Emergency Medical Services and firefighting professionals and one social worker.

They reach out to residents with known mental health issues and connect them with resources to combat their issues before they become part of the legal system or hospital system.

Noblesville, just north of Indianapolis, is the ninth largest city in Indiana, home to more than 75,000 residents.

"Over the last six years, you've seen Noblesville's population exponentially grow, but you have not seen their public-safety runs exponentially grow because of this program," Sakbun said.

"You also see individuals who have been calling [911] multiple times who are now connected with follow-up resources now not call as much," Sakbun said. "There's a quantitative and qualitative aspect that we will apply to Terre Haute.

"It's a proactive model to public safety, working with police and fire departments, as well as the social worker aspect," he added. "So, we're taking our current model and looking to grow it over these next couple of years."

"We realized early on that this can't be a siloed approach," Jensen said. "This has to be a collaborative effort where police and fire come together — this isn't just a police issue or a fire issue. ... NobleACT is merging those two departments focused solely on proactive paramedicine and integrated health and crisis runs."

Jensen continued, "We have three therapy dogs now out in the community to help individuals process their emotions and help us gain information from those who are now in crisis, and (we) hope that down the road we can prevent them from being in crisis in the future."

The program saves both lives and money, Mayor Jensen said.

"As a community, in terms of public safety and in terms of the mental health and medical community, I firmly believe we can build a model that treats every situation differently," Sakbun said. "This program has that flexibility."

Sakbun noted that Terre Haute Police Department social worker Jarom Hawker currently manages 142 active cases.

"If we took a police-and-fire model instead of a police model, we think his number could be 250, 300," Sakbun said. The department is considering adding another social worker to lighten Hawker's load.

Sakbun and Jensen are hoping that the state legislature will fund a pilot program based on the NobleACT model, with an eye on long-term funding for the project.

"One of our goals is to go around the state and tell our story and share our resources," Jensen said. "Local elected officials have kind of a pact — that we're all in this together, we're all fighting the same challenges at times.

"That Mayor Brandon invited me and our team down today to share that information tells the story that local officials are getting things done around the Hoosier state ... that are focused on saving lives," he continued.

"The team that he's assembled — whether it be the private sector or his public safety team — are first class, and we're excited to share what we know," said Jensen.

Jensen recalled another successful action he took tackling Noblesville's mental health issues. At the dawn of COVID-19 in March of 2020, a local therapist asked him to go on Facebook Live and be part of a therapy session.

"That turned into a weekly program," he recalled. "We had thousands of people tuning in every week to hear my therapy sessions about the challenges around COVID. That struck a chord in me. ... [I knew it was working] when it became a normal conversation probably a year in. I knew that we were making a difference, and that's the most important part.

"People are going to have challenges, and we've got to normalize that," Jensen added. "Behind every door in Indiana is some form of mental health challenges whether it's anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD amongst our veterans. It's everywhere and ... it doesn't discriminate."

He concluded, "'It's OK to not be OK' must come from the mayor. The more leaders we have [participating in the conversation], that's huge."

Sakbun will announce when Terre Haute will implement it new mental health initiative during his June 18 State of the City speech.

David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at