Community collaborates to advance mental wellness in South Lake Tahoe
Special to the Tribune
Jeanne and Alan Nelson were concerned about mental health issues in South Lake Tahoe. In an effort to share their experiences, they attended their first — and the community’s second — Mental Health Forum in March 2015.
“We couldn’t stop scribbling,” said Jeanne with a smile. “We had so many stories and ideas we wanted to share.”
Along with 80 other attendees, Jeanne and Alan wrote their experiences and discussed strategies to address mental health needs and service gaps. The group also developed a short-term action plan, and some formed the Mental Health Cooperative to oversee the plan’s implementation.
Fast-forward to Thursday, April 7, 12 months later, and the date of the third annual Mental Health Forum at Lake Tahoe Community College. Jeanne and Alan now lead the South Lake Tahoe chapter of National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and provide support groups, trainings and activities for individuals who have a family member with mental illness. They are grant writers and have received funding from the Barton Foundation to increase “psycho education” literature at the library.
Jeanne and Alan are two of many individuals and community organizations making significant strides within the last year for mental and behavioral health in the community.
“Today we are celebrating our collaborative efforts to improve the mental well-being of our community,” said Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer, Barton Health’s chief medical officer, at the forum’s opening. “Barton can’t do this alone. We need community partnerships to bridge the service gaps and, most importantly, to help us destigmatize mental health.”
Forum facilitator Michael Ward shared a handout of more than 50 community accomplishments in mental health from the last year. El Dorado County Mental Health division opened two new transitional houses in South Lake Tahoe and started a peer-to-peer support program at the high school. Lake Tahoe Unified School District expanded its services by adding more counselors, drug and alcohol support, and a suicide prevention program. Barton Health hired two social workers to provide therapeutic and counseling services and will be expanding its psychiatry services with an adult psychiatrist in August. And the list goes on.
At the forum, Kindle Craig, Barton Health’s director of strategy and development, also announced the recipients of the Barton Foundation’s second round of community health grants. In the last year, the Barton Foundation gave an additional $15,000, for a total of $50,000, to address the community’s most pressing health needs.
Organizations that received funds this round for mental health programs or projects included the Community Health Advisory Committee’s Mental Health Collaborative, Lake Tahoe Unified School District, Live Violence Free, NAMI, Sierra Child and Family Services and South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition. Though, as Craig noted, every grant awarded in the past year has a direct or indirect impact on mental health.
The half-day forum concluded with the audience becoming care navigators. Small groups were given a realistic mental health crisis scenario. Each group discussed the steps needed for its individual to receive appropriate care and what might happen between these steps to prevent care or stop appropriate treatment. The delays between the steps — such as stigma, denial and lack of education — were abundant.
“What we’ve learned today is it’s not just about taking the steps to get the appropriate services,” Ward said. “The real progress needed lies in the space between the steps.”
South Lake Tahoe’s Mental Health Forums are hosted by Barton Health. Throughout the month of May, the public can participate in community activities and events recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month. Look for event updates and mental health services available at http://www.bartonhealth.org/mentalhealth.