United Way of Northern New Mexico (UWNNM) has started 2017 being actively involved in community discussions around behavioral health. On January 19, UWNNM joined Los Alamos Public School’s (LAPS) Healthy School Initiative to host a Department of Health (DOH) presentation on ‘Risk Factors for Suicidal Behaviors among Youth.’ This presentation was open to the public and was well attended by parents, LAPS staff, adults working with youth, and nonprofits. DOH presented findings and trends with youth in Los Alamos. The percentage of suicidal thoughts was higher in Los Alamos than all other counties in New Mexico. Although, attempts of suicide are lower than the rest of the state.
“This is a tough topic that touches close to home for a lot of people. The more we can shine the light on the issues, the better chance we have to address them, as a community. I’m a firm believer in the ‘it takes a village’ approach and feel lucky to be a part of such an amazing village.”
The Los Alamos Little Theater presented ‘Dog Sees God’ in January. As the play was being cast many of the actors commented on the play’s struggling of youth was not far from what youth are experiencing today. Director, Ken Milder, then adapted the play to be a catalyst for community discussion. After one of the matinees there was a panel discussion that invited local therapists, cast, and director. The community was invited to discussion even if they had not attended the play. Dr. Brian Haigh, MD Psychiatrist described the play as a typical day at the office to include academic stress he sees in Los Alamos. Heather McCulloch, LMFT, sees bullying starting as early as kindergarten. She also mentions that Los Alamos is not immune to the rape culture stating that there is at least one rape per year amongst youth. These often go unreported because of embarrassment and the involvement of other families in a small town.
UWNNM, local therapists, first responders and community members began meeting regularly in 2016 for a more in depth look at this issues. This communication channel is used to shed light on gaps in services to include needs for additional therapist hours and ways to more effectively serve the community. To date, the group has advocated on behalf of the community to allow mid-level therapists back onto the Blue Cross Blue Shield network and, generated collaboration between LANL/LANS for a series of brown bag lunches on mental health topics.
Looking forward, this group, chaired by UWNNM is exploring opportunities to train first responders in Northern New Mexico in Mental Health First Aid, specific to a public safety audience. Additionally, a partnership with Los Alamos High School is being developed to fund vouchers for youth who are unable to seek counseling/therapy otherwise. This voucher program is also being explored for use in the community. “This group has really given us an opportunity to share resources and ideas on how to work together and get information out to the broader community.” “Part of the issue seems to be that folks are not aware of the resources we do have and how to access them, we’re hoping to work on that.”
Thanks to our Cornerstone Companies United Way of Northern New Mexico is able to work in the community on behavioral health care for all.