Input sought from Lewis residents on rural mental health

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LOWVILLE — As most people in the north country know, small town and country living is very different from that in cities. A research group from the Albany School of Public Health wants to learn about the relationship between those unique circumstances and stressors, mental health and the unusually high rates of suicide in many rural areas.

That likely means the stressors that cost us mentally and emotionally are different, too.

Led by Brett R. Harris, who has a doctorate in public health and has been working in substance abuse for the past 11 years in state agencies, the four-person team designed a “listening tour” in late 2019 and began implementing it in 2020 by visiting rural counties across the state both in person and, as it became necessary due to COVID-19, virtually.

The goal of the tour is to get the perspective of community members on mental health issues, what can cause them locally, the sources of stress that may be unique to life in each county or in rural life in general and how people manage those stressors.

Ms. Harris also wants to know if the community is aware of services available to them, if they would or have used those services and what services, if any, they would find helpful.

The group partners locally with community services departments that work to spread the word about the meeting as well as participating in the process.

“It’s very important — if we’re going to be better at service delivery — that (the voices of the community) matter and their experiences and their perceptions are key to any strategy development or changes. It’s important that they share that information and with this study, it’s a very safe place to be able to share because of the anonymity,” Lewis County Director of Community Services Patricia Fralick said.

The research team has a separate 90-minute meeting in each county with agencies and groups that work directly or laterally in the mental health and suicide prevention fields, referred to as stakeholders.

On April 13, representatives of a number of Lewis County departments, agencies and organizations participated in the stakeholders listening session.

The virtual session for Lewis County community members who are at least 18 years old will be held via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The session will be completely confidential and participants will be identified only by their first names to preserve privacy, Ms. Harris said.

While the information and insight shared during both sessions will be included in the final reports to the individual counties, as well as the overall compiled project document with information from all counties, nothing will be attributed to anyone in particular nor will the identity of participants be disclosed.

County-specific reports will be shared with each county, a state-wide compiled report of all participating counties will be distributed to key state agencies and officials to illustrate the need for additional mental health services so ideally, funds can be “funneled over to rural counties” in a way that does not normally happen, Ms. Harris said.

“Rural areas are disproportionately impacted by these issues and they also, unfortunately, due to their low population density ... they have tremendous need but they get overlooked for funding because they just don’t have the numbers that their urban counterparts have,” Ms. Harris said.

Mrs. Fralick said she’s very excited to receive the final report for Lewis County as she does not have the resources, either time or financial, to pull together this kind of information but she believes it will be very helpful.

St. Lawrence County participated in the Listening Tour in November. Jefferson County is not eligible because only “non-metro” counties on the U.S. Department of Agriculture list have been contacted to participate in this study, according to Ms. Harris.

She said she hopes the final report will be completed by late fall.

Lewis County residents interested in participating in the listening session should go to http://bit.ly/Lewis-Community.

Although registration is only online, the actual discussion session will be accessible both online or by phone. That information is provided through the registration process.

Questions or more information can be sent via email to apuerta@student.nymc.edu.

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