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Column: What NH community behavioral health care looks like

For the Valley News
Published: 9/14/2021 10:20:03 PM
Modified: 9/14/2021 10:20:06 PM

Surely you know about medical clinics, dental clinics, urgent care clinics and veterinary clinics and what they do. But do you know what happens at a behavioral health care clinic?

The New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association has 10 community behavioral health centers, all situated by region. Here in the Upper Valley and Sullivan County area, West Central Behavioral Health has clinics in Claremont, Lebanon and Newport, N.H.

Not all centers offer all the same services, and some focus more heavily on certain services than others. At West Central Behavioral Health, the broad focus is to treat people of all ages with mental illness and substance use disorders — regardless of their financial circumstances. Most West Central clients cannot otherwise access behavioral health care due to financial or life challenges. So, the community behavioral health center model serves as a social safety net to help our neighbors in the greatest need.

The details of this work are complex and far-reaching.

Let’s start with mobile crisis response. This phone line is staffed 24/7 by crisis clinicians standing by to help callers in the midst of a mental health or substance use crisis. Clinicians calm callers, help them realize their lives are special and worth living and encourage them to avoid self-harm. They’ll travel to offer in-person crisis counseling and ensure each caller is safe. All behavioral health care centers in New Hampshire offer mobile crisis response services to minimize unnecessary emergency room visits. West Central’s 24/7 mobile crisis number is 1-800-564-2578. (Each center has its own phone number, but that will change to a single, statewide number with a centralized call center in January.)

Vocational services, or supported employment, is where vocational specialists help clients identify skills and find work as part of their mental health recovery. Vocational specialists stay with clients over the long term to ensure they remain employed — serving as mentors, problem solvers, cheerleaders and coaches.

Supportive housing program specialists work with clients to find stable and secure housing. This can be challenging, but with a safe place to live, recovery timelines can be dramatically reduced.

“Assertive Community Treatment” team members develop close professional relationships with clients in all aspects of their lives to help them live up to their full potential while avoiding hospitalization or jail time. Assertive Community Treatment programs save our community money and help people become economically independent and socially productive.

Peer support specialists, as part of their own recovery, work with clients to understand them fully, then inform the treatment team to develop individualized treatment plans. Gathering as much information as possible in a non-threatening, supportive way as peers ensures more effective treatment.

Health mentors offer a program called InShape, a lifestyle enrichment program for clients with severe mental illness to learn how to eat right, shop for food, cook healthful meals and follow an exercise routine. The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society and King Arthur Baking Co. have offered programs for West Central’s InShape clients.

Substance use counselors work with adults to help them kick the habit. From alcohol to opioids, these counselors know how to recognize, work with and treat people who also have co-occurring mental health issues.

Finally, psychologists, psychiatrists and nurses offer psychotherapy, prescribe medications and oversee medication management. Case managers assist clients to develop targeted treatment plans and ensure access to many of life’s needs, such as child care, winter coats or transportation, all while helping them resolve myriad personal challenges. Integrated care is coming soon to West Central, where a primary care practitioner will meet with clients so they won’t have to travel to address their physical health. Ready access to primary care is crucial for people with mental health issues who fall prey to obesity, diabetes, and other physical diseases that often get diagnosed too late.

Not all New Hampshire community behavioral health centers offer all the programs mentioned above, but West Central does. This broad range of services helps people heal, recover and lead more productive lives. A recent study has shown that for every $1 spent on enhanced treatment for anxiety and depression, an economic return of $4 flows back into the community in greater productivity and reduced health care costs.

New Hampshire’s community behavioral health centers offer a viable community safety net for our most vulnerable and at-risk friends, family members and neighbors of all ages. Now, during National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, being informed about what’s available in community behavioral health may help you save a life.

Dave Celone of in Sharon, is director of development and external relations for West Central Behavioral Health. He can be reached at dcelone@wcbh.org.




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