What are the unique aspects of rural communities and culture that may contribute to mental health concerns and increased risk of suicide in rural New York? What factors contribute to positive mental health and well-being? How do community members seek help for behavioral health concerns, and what factors influence these help-seeking preferences? How can rural communities—individually and as a whole—improve availability, awareness, access, and utilization of mental health services, resources, and support?
These were the questions Dr. Brett Harris sought to answer as she embarked on an 18-month rural listening tour, the first of its kind in New York State, from March 2020 to September 2021. Dr. Harris, a senior research scientist at NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, and a professor of public health at the University at Albany, heard from almost 300 residents and healthcare professionals across 16 rural counties to produce a report detailing possible strategies to “improve mental health in rural areas in New York and beyond.”
In my last “News from the Noteworthy” column, I wrote about the wellbeing struggles that are keenly felt across the workforce. I shared the results of a recent survey where business leaders, managers, and supervisors told us they are spending an average of 39 percent of their time on issues such as employee burnout, fatigue, stress, anxiety, mental health, and substance misuse issues. That number went up as high as 70 percent for some owners and supervisors.
By: Bill Hayes LCSW-R (ret.), NAMI Delaware and Otsego
[Editor’s note: Bill Hayes submitted this important column with details about the new ‘988’ telephone number for mental health emergencies.]
In mid-July, there will be a new option for getting help with urgent mental health situations. While 911 will continue to be the key number to call for medical and crime emergencies, a different number will connect callers to a specialist in mental health: 988.
Years in the planning, and recently boosted by new funding and motivation, 988 will become the go-to number nationally for mental health crises. 988 will connect with the existing Suicide Prevention Line, and with a network of regional and local crisis services. 988 is not limited to suicide issues. States are working to strengthen services, staffing, and expansion of coverage to regions without robust services. There will inevitably be challenges during the transition, including recruiting and training, gaps in availability of local follow up supports for individuals and their families, adjusting interagency protocols, and informing the general public about the new arrangements.
NAMI of NY State (www.naminys.org), an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, supports the idea of “mental health responses to mental health situations.” With limited training and support for assessing and dealing with emotionally-troubled community members, law enforcement personnel – from dispatchers to road patrol officers — do what they can to respond. Their capacity for compassion and patience – and perhaps personal experience — is important for all concerned. But professional preparation such as Crisis Intervention Training, plus regular refresher updates, can lower the risk of avoidable injury or incarceration.
This should carry as much weight as commonly-required initial and annual weapons training. Even with the new 988 initiative, CIT for dispatchers and road patrol officers remains relevant, and should be a marker for best practice, as community policing reforms move forward.
It has been one year since all New York municipalities filed plans for reforms to their police-related policies and practices.
Across the state, some plans included things such as recommendations for training, clearer standards on use of force, greater emphasis on cultural awareness, recognition of implicit bias, and commitment to community-based committees for periodic review and update of progress toward stated goals. Some plans reflected minimal citizen input, recited existing law enforcement policies and activities, and little suggestion for change.
All 492 plans, statewide, can be found at www.policereform.ny.gov. Locally, these included the City of Oneonta, Village of Cooperstown, all area counties, and all others with police forces.
On behalf of the families and friends of community members with mental health issues, we urge that the entities which created and formally voted to endorse and submit their plans, reconvene their reform committees to review progress, update their suggestions for best practice, and report openly to the public on the process and results.
JAZZ PERFORMANCE – 7 p.m. Celebrate Jazz month with performances by local musicians. This week features a performance by the Old Masters (Dan Martin on the Trombone, Thomas Ives on the Bass, and Dan Sales on the Guitar). Free, open to the public. Cooperstown Art Association. 607-547-9777 or visit www.cooperstownart.com/jazz-in-april.html
BLOOD DRIVE – Noon – 5 p.m. Otsego County Office of Emergency Services, 140 Co. Hwy. 33W, Cooperstown. 1-800-733-2767 or visit www.redcrossblood.org
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and more recently with the emergence of the Delta variant, people have been forced to change their lifestyles in order to stay safe and healthy. While the prolonged effects of social distancing are unclear, in Otsego County there are clear statistics regarding the effects these changes have had on the mental health of its residents.
According to the Otsego County Department of Health, there was a lull in people seeking care for the first few months of the pandemic, but by the end of 2020 there was a 5% increase in those seeking treatment.
The Otsego County Mental Health and Addiction Service clinics moved about 1,000 clients to telehealth, where medical staff provide services via phone, Zoom or other technologies.
Children and Family Services as well as Addiction Recovery both experienced declines in service, but this was because referral services had either gone remote or weren’t operating under normal capacities.
“We experienced a significant jump in severity of impairment and risk in both adults but most dramatically in children,” Susan Matt, director of community services for the Otsego County Mental Health Department, said. “Unlike many other counties, we have not seen a significant increase in overdose deaths.”
COOPERSTOWN – Bassett Healthcare wants everyone to know that they do not have to feel alone if they are feeling stress about the Coronavirus crisis.
The hospital network has now created a hotline for anyone who needs help handling the pressures and concerns of these unusual times.
“Many people, although they may have family members in the area and are staying in touch, still feel isolated and alone,” said Ann Marie Mills, the licensed clinical social worker at Bassett Healthcare Network who is leading the 10 person hotline team. “It is often useful to them to have a non-family member or friend to feel their worries and concerns.”
The hotline, 607-322-0157, is staffed 24/7 and is free of charge.
OPEN HOUSE – Noon-3 p.m. Talk to representatives of The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Ladies Axiliaries, Amvets, Sons of the the American Legion, and others. Cooperstown Veterans Club, 60 Main St., Cooperstown.
GARDEN PARTY – 1-4 p.m. Treat Mom to a garden party that includes tea and treats on the veranda, a maypole and live music for dancing, activities, and a first look at a new exhibit by the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Free, all welcome. Hyde Hall, 267 Glimmerglass State Park Rd., Springfield. Info, hydehall.org/event/celebrate-mom-garden-party/ or call (607) 547-5098
COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS – 8 a.m. Join discussion of the Oneonta Theater’s fate, in light of owner’s failure to sell building. Kathleen Gasperini, a theater expert with summer home in Schenevus, will be present. Greater Oneonta Historical Society, 183 Main St., Oneonta. Info, call 432-0960 or e-mail info@OneontaHistory.org or visit www.oneontahistory.org
IDENTITY DISCUSSION – 7 p.m. Learn about how mental health differs for people from different cultural and physical diasporas. Chesebro room, Hartwick College, Oneonta. Info, Joanne Georges email@example.com or call (203)518-1880 or visit calendar.hartwick.edu:8080/calendar/ViewCal.html