The funds will also be used to focus on the state’s opioid crisis and post-pandemic behavioral health needs.
In 2020, the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) projected more than 103 million American adults and nearly 14 million children would experience a negative mental/behavioral health condition and/or develop a co-occurring substance abuse disorder due to the confounding stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic has stretched into 2021, the need for mental health support has never been greater. In order to help meet that need in New Hampshire, particularly in the North Country and Lakes Region, Plymouth State University has been awarded a $1.92 million four-year grant from the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program for Professionals. This marks the fifth time since 2013 that PSU has received this grant, which is intended to grow the behavioral health workforce in rural and medically underserved areas.
The University will be focusing its efforts on integrated prevention and clinical intervention and evidence-based treatment for at-risk children, adolescents and transitional-age youth (18-25 years), with a special emphasis on meeting the needs of those at risk for mental illness, substance use, intimate partner violence and suicide, and those least likely to seek continuous help. The funds will also be used to focus on New Hampshire’s opioid crisis and post-pandemic behavioral health needs.
“The needs are great for all populations. We’ve been fielding calls regarding college-age students who are really struggling with anxiety and depression and trying to find qualified individuals to support them is challenging,” said Robin Hausheer, EdD, NCC, School Counseling Program Coordinator. “One of our focus areas is addressing mental health issues post-COVID-19.”
The grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will permit the University’s professional counseling and school psychology programs to recruit more students by offering stipends during their internships, as most graduate students are unable to work while completing their coursework and clinical internships. The majority of PSU’s graduates obtain jobs in New Hampshire upon graduation, thus the grant will lead to an increase in the number and quality of mental health professionals in the state. Over the course of the last nine years, nearly 80 percent of PSU’s school psychology, school counseling and clinical mental health counseling graduates have been employed in the state, and of those graduates, 15 percent have sought employment in the North Country.
Over the course of the next four years, PSU will be placing interns in 116 training sites across the state, 98 percent of which are interdisciplinary in focus. All but 12 of those sites are located in rural areas.
“The most important aspect of this funding is that it allows us to really support our students with trainings and stipends, which in turn allows us to support our greater community,” said Cynthia Waltman, Ph.D., Professor of Counselor Education and School Psychology. “We really need to increase and develop the behavioral health workforce in New Hampshire for all age levels. This grant allows us to take the next step in serving the people of our state.”
Another factor that has limited workforce development is the lower wages paid to behavioral health professionals, particularly in rural areas, which is exacerbated by the debt associated with student loans and can often deter individuals from pursuing a degree in behavioral health. As part of the grant, PSU will provide information about loan repayment programs in its recruitment materials and throughout the course of its graduate program. The University will also partner with local recruitment agencies to offer workshops related to employment opportunities in the state.
PSU also offers professional development opportunities to the community at-large. Plymouth State has partnered with two regional organizations, Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth (CADY) and Mid-State Health Center, to address the state’s ongoing opioid crisis by offering peer recovery support training. Each session has trained 35-40 individuals.
PSU’s Supervision Institute addresses the challenge of recruiting, supporting and training internship supervisors by hosting and facilitating a weekend-long program that features national supervision experts and covers supervision of interns in the field and related legal and ethical topics. This year’s program will be offered in Concord, New Hampshire in November.
This year, the University is placing a focus on resiliency, particularly regarding mental health practitioners and the clients they serve. Michael Ungar, Ph.D., a world-renowned resilience expert, will be presenting for PSU’s students and faculty via Zoom in September 2021.