Experts: South Lake Tahoe’s mental health needs ‘unique’
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Mental health concerns on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore include many similarities to national statistics, and a few differences.
A panel of experts discussed local concerns Wednesday, Oct. 21, at a Tahoe Region Young Professionals’ workshop. The panel included Betsy Glass from Barton Health; Sabrina Owen, program manager for El Dorado County Mental Health’s South Lake Tahoe Center; and Cheyenne Lane from Tahoe Youth & Family Services.
According to Owen, mental health needs are higher in El Dorado County than the state average. Owen added that mental illness could go untreated or unaddressed because people might be afraid of being judged.
“How many of us would be willing to share our concerns like depression with our friends?” Owen asked. “I think we need to get to a culture where talking about our concerns and issues is normal.”
Lane, from Tahoe Youth & Family Services, said South Lake Tahoe lacks a lot of resources that are available in larger cities.
“Waiting lists for services are large for some things,” Lane said.
All three panelists agreed that access to mental health resources and the stigma associated with mental health problems played a huge part in whether people sought help in South Lake Tahoe.
“Stigma is the result of being a rural community,” Glass said. “Most of us can walk into a grocery store and meet a handful of people we know.”
According to Owen, poverty and substance abuse plays a large role in affecting stress and mental health. Approximately 13 percent of South Lake Tahoe’s population is below the poverty line.
“We have a lot of people who are living in multi-family situations or permanently in motels,” Owen said.
South Lake Tahoe lacks sufficient mental health services that accept Medi-Cal, Glass said. However, a large number of residents are Medi-Cal recipients, which can limit treatment options.
All panelists agreed that media and technology change how mental health can be addressed.
Owen referenced the “contagion effect,” or something that catches on after national media glamorizes or hypes up events like mass shootings. She said people, especially teenagers who might be depressed, are susceptible to the contagion effect.
“It‘s definitely a problem with suicide and school violence. Individuals who have those thoughts and see it in the media often act on it,” Owen said.
Owen said media also drives up the fear factor or desensitizes people to compassion or violence. One example was the recent activity around a 15-year-old male who escaped from China Spring Youth Camp in Gardnerville, Nevada, on Oct. 10.
After his escape, the teenager threatened to carry out a school shooting, reported The Record-Courier, though it did not say how or indicate a location.
“We got reports from parents who said their kids here in South Lake Tahoe didn’t want to go school in this community because of what could happen,” Owen said.
Glass, from Barton Health, said that while media — like television and newspapers — can portray negative mental health stereotypes, they can also be helpful.
“I think we can use the media to promote education about suicide and mental health,” she said.
Lane said social media and texting might also help younger generations address mental health concerns.
“I think you need more of a text helpline with the younger generation,” Lane said. “People are a little bit more scared to call, and Facebook and texting seems more anonymous.”
Glass said that South Lake Tahoe organizations like Barton Health, El Dorado County, Tahoe Youth & Family Services and Lake Tahoe Unified School District are working together on ways to enhance mental health services.
About three years ago, a semi-annual mental health forum was established to evaluate needs and increase resources.
Owen said the community has made strides since then, with Barton Health establishing a monthly mental health forum.
El Dorado County also recently received a large grant specific to South Lake Tahoe to train law enforcement on how to engage people with mental illness.
The school district, in partnership with the county, launched a new program for peer intervention training. It’s meant to help high school students identify and counsel others their own age.
“Kids are already relying on each other and supporting each other,” Owen said. “We just need to empower them with the skills to better provide support.”
There’s also a crisis-line specific to South Lake Tahoe that people can call — 530-544-2219.
Barton Health expanded its mental health services recently as well to help address some of the community concerns, Glass said.
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