Following up on yesterday’s post about the lack of progress in mental health treatment for people who need help now, Benedict Carey’s column illuminates the problem of prioritizing research over treatment when large numbers of people are struggling and in need of help.
Here in the SouthCoast, connecting people with the help they need when they need it became the foundation for launching Help & Hope Southcoast in 2020. There was a general feeling that the moment had come for mental health to come out from behind the labels and stigma, step into the light, and as Carey might say, focus on keeping people from drowning in their own mental and emotional pain.
The local organizations who participated in early discussions, many of them members of the Greater New Bedford Suicide Prevention Coalition, knew without a doubt that they could help more people if only they could reach them, convince them not to lose hope, and show them that help is available.
It’s one of the reasons we launched the Local Heroes series in our early days to begin to introduce people to the wealth of professional caregivers we have in this region. These Local Hero spotlights gave us a way to show the region the faces of area service providers and let them hear from them in their own words.
The premise is that it is so much easier to call someone you know, rather than dial a number and not know what to expect on the other end.
When Carey writes, “good luck finding an authoritative guide to navigating the full range of appropriate options,” I know that here in the SouthCoast there is a way to make that process easier, beginning with Southcoast Resource Connect, the database of services maintained by Southcoast Health.
Beyond resource guides, there are local professionals who are working in their own ways to make access easier for SouthCoast residents.
First and foremost, if you are in crisis, Pam Bolarinho or Matt Boyd at the Child & Family Services Crisis Center are the people to call at 508-996-3154. Or, if you need to talk to someone, you can call Darcy Lee and her team of Samaritan Southcoast volunteers at 866-508-4357.
If you’re worried about a family member using substances, don’t be afraid to call New Bedford Police Outreach Coordinator, Sgt. Samuel Ortega, known as Sammy to local health care professionals, who coordinates a multidisciplinary team of people who go out and visit those in crisis with the sole goal of offering them the help they need.
In the New Bedford school system, Kathleen Mackenzie is working to help young children find mental health help by working on a process where those who struggle with mental health problems can be diagnosed in a more timely way. Currently, the average wait between the onset of symptoms for youth and a diagnosis is 10 or more years.
And, a new psychiatric chair at Southcoast Health, Dr. Paul Hammerness, plans to more seamlessly weave mental health treatment referrals into the hospital system’s primary care physician experience. When that happens, people will be able to ask for help as part of their routine physical exams in a private, effective way.
There are so many more organizations and professionals focused on connecting people with the help they need. It isn’t perfect, but the connections and collaboration between professionals and organizations in the SouthCoast has woven an effective safety net through the community specifically there to catch those who would otherwise fall through the gaps.
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