rosa contreras

Rosa Contreras, Graham County Health Department

A recent Graham County study on mental health revealed something startling. Thirty-percent of the people who tried to commit self harm in the county said they had no idea where to get help.

Local leaders are determined to address that issue.

Healthcare providers, schools officials and law enforcement agencies have met together twice so far and will continue to meet to discuss ways to improve community access to mental health support, strengthen the mental healthcare force and address youth mental health, specifically, said Rosa Contreras, program coordinator at the Graham County Health Department.

“We’re really excited to see where this can go. It’s much needed in our community,” she said. “We’ll be identifying trends, identifying data, and bringing more support to families.”

According to the Graham County Community Health Assessment 2019–2023 report, 22% of respondents said they or an immediate family member needed mental health services in the past year.

Thirty-one percent said they had a history of depression and 6% reported they’d made attempts at self-harm.

Eliza Coll worked on the health assessment report and is now assisting Contreras in the creation of the collaborative.

“Our number one priority is to look at the mental health system as a whole and see where we’re missing opportunities,” Coll said. “This is only the beginning of bringing together this collaborative to identify how we can better serve this community.”

She hopes the group will be able to identify grants, scholarships and funding to build the local mental health workforce.

Coll is also eager to help young people get the help they need.

Although she has heard stigma is a barrier to youth receiving assistance, in speaking with school counselors she has found that sometimes it isn’t the children that are having issues with the stigma surrounding mental health, but older family members.

Unfortunately, local mental health providers and the school counselors are seeing suicidal ideation and depression in students as young as elementary school, Coll said.

Those issues desperately need to be addressed, Coll said.

Craig Smith, who is a mental health counselor for the Eastern Arizona College, said younger people are more willing to discussing their struggles.

“They’re more open to talk about some of these issues and I think it might be because almost everyone is dealing with it in one way or another. If they don’t experience some type of depression or anxiety they at least know someone that does,” Smith said. “They’re much better at supporting each other and talking about these kinds of things, and honestly that’s half the battle.”

Smith hopes the creation of the collaboration brings more mental health resources to the county.

However, just networking with other local mental healthcare workers can make things better for students who may need extra assistance, he said. By getting to know about the other clinics and counselors in the community, he will know who he can send his students.

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