Meeting focuses on mental health

MALONE — Franklin County residents took part in a rural listening tour, Tuesday evening, hosted by SUNY Albany’s School of Public Health over Zoom, joining a conversation aimed at helping North Country communities meet the unique challenges of providing mental health services and promoting well-being in a rural setting.

The evening’s meeting touched on multiple topics related to mental health, and included comments on the need to remove the stigma around seeking help and ensuring mental health services are readily accessible to area residents. “I think we need to help get the stigma away from people who need the extra help, not feel like they are ashamed of reaching out to somebody, because there is that stigma,” Malone Mayor Andrea Dumas said. “We just need to be able to help people get to people and not have that stigma, I don’t think I can stress that enough. If we can stand up and assist each other and not have that stigma following us that is all I can say.”

Dumas said the more information available to community members about where and how they can get help the better. “The more we share the information and get the word out there that there are people here, it doesn’t just pick one type of individual, and I think that is the biggest thing we got to get out there. It could be a lawyer, it could be a doctor, it could be a politician, a mom, a dad, a teacher or children,” Dumas said.

According to Director of Community Services Suzanne Lavigne of Franklin County Community Services, comments from the meeting pointed to how local organizations and government officials can help meet the needs of their community members.

“What do we need to do better to support the county and region’s needs?” Lavigne said, “I think we need to do a better job of educating the community.”

Lavigne said for those seeking mental health services the best option differs from person to person and Franklin County Community Services can be reached at 518-891-2280 to help out, in addition 211 provides general information on local mental health programs for Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

For individuals in crisis there are crisis lines available on a 24/7 basis, according to Lavigne, who said residents in the northern portion of Franklin County can call 518-483-3261, while those living in the southern portion of Franklin County can reach out to 518-891-5535.

Lavigne said these numbers, run through Citizens Advocates, an organization based in Malone that provides mental health and other clinical services, connect people with a trained therapist at any time of day or night.

Lavigne said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents its own challenges to area residents, impacting the mental health and daily lives of people throughout Franklin County.

“I think what is really important right now is not only do we identify what we typically see when we aren’t in a COVID situation, but ultimately how the community is asking for help in a variety of different ways, Lavigne said. “I really think it is important for us to be mindful, it affects us in so many ways and affects people much differently from one person to the next.”

The conversation moved to the pandemic’s impact on previously routine tasks such as trips to the laundromat and grocery store, activities that can be particularly difficult to accomplish for those without their own motor vehicles, in addition to the economic stressors placed on community members by job losses resulting from the pandemic.

Lavigne pointed to reliable internet access as a specific stressor for North Country residents in more remote locations during the pandemic.

“We are challenged by internet access, reliable internet and cell service. When we have health providers shifting to online supports, the anxiety of getting connected through a Zoom connection or GoToMeeting means a lot of people don’t have that option,” Lavigne said. “This is a huge issue for us in the North Country, particularly for Franklin County because we have so many people who live in remote areas, unfortunately lots of time it is the people living in the most remote areas who need those types of services and access to them. It is a huge obstacle for us and a stressor of living in this kind of a world, it is a huge challenge.”

Camilla Bacolod, a student at Cornell University, moderated and facilitated the evening’s listening session.

A subsequent listening session with stakeholders is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Thursday.

According to Brett Harris, a clinical assistant professor of health policy, management and behavior at SUNY Albany, the rural listening tour has included two separate listening sessions in each county, one for community members and one for health providers, law enforcement, first responders, school personnel, and local government staff.

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