Summit County’s mental health efforts aim to help youth
Summit County’s community members have rolled up their sleeves in the past few years to close the gaps in services that are available for mental health and substance abuse treatment in the county.
One of the programs that has been implemented is Communities That Care, a youth prevention coalition that is part of Summit County’s Mental Wellness Alliance. The alliance comprises several agencies and governing bodies, including the Health Department, CONNECT Summit County, and the Park City and Summit County councils, and has facilitated the community’s efforts.
Expanding programs for youth has been a central focus of the Summit County Mental Wellness Plan. The plan identifies the county’s mental health and substance abuse needs, as well as strategic goals for addressing them.
Communities That Care is a model of collaborative, evidence-based prevention work and has been used across the country to bring together stakeholders in communities, said Mary Christa Smith, coordinator for Summit County’s Communities That Care program.
Smith, who was hired in 2017, has spent the last year gathering and assessing data across the county’s three school districts to examine trends and needs. Three priorities have emerged through that data assessment: perceived risk of substance abuse, parental attitudes toward substance abuse, and a rise in suicidal ideation.
“We have our data and have picked our priorities to see what is out there already in the community so we are not replicating good work,” she said. “We want to elevate the ongoing work.”
One gap that has been identified across the county is a lack of educational classes and trainings to help parents effectively guide their children through middle school and into high school, Smith said.
“There is a big shift with grade changes, but there are simple and specific practices that can be employed that greatly reduce chances that their child is going to drink and use drugs,” Smith said. “We really wanted to provide parents with those resources that seem to be lacking.”
Smith highlighted work that has been done with the three school districts, as well as the Sheriff’s Office as part of the Front Line Blue Line events. The events are intended to help support parents and guardians and feature speakers that discuss various topics.
Aaron Newman, Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse coordinator, said the Communities That Care program has “tremendously helped” the Mental Wellness Alliance’s strategic plan. He said the second goal of the plan is to increase prevention and education, which he referred to as the youth-focused element of the plan.
“When we designed the plan, we knew Communities That Care would be instrumental,” he said. “Mary Christa and all of them have jumped right into that process of getting the assessment and identify the issues that the community is facing. I think the biggest support it has provided to us is bringing all three school districts to the table.”
Looking ahead to 2019, Smith said Communities That Care will be dedicating resources to launching an evidenced-based program for families with kids between the ages of 9 and 14. She said the program has been extremely successful in other communities, boasting a 28 percent reduction in depression and 35 percent reduction in substance abuse.
“We have trained a core of 12 community members who will be offering those classes for free and for parents, in particular,” she said.
Smith said the Communities That Care program has helped bring together various organizations and individuals. She said prior to the Mental Wellness Alliance, not everyone was collaborating.
“The school would be doing their thing and Valley Behavioral Health was doing something related, but not necessarily integrated,” she said. “I think it has greatly enhanced our ability to be effective by developing those relationships within our community so that we can be more effective and know what is happening.”
Smith hopes that more people “join under the tent,” whether it is students, parents, teachers or other community members. She added, “We want all perspectives at the table.”
“We all, as adults in the community, have the opportunity to be that adult a kid looks up to and seeks out for advice. We are looking for those opportunities to connect our youth with those adults to help support and guide them in meaningful ways that can help them feel connected to the community. It creates its own sense of goodness and purpose and everyone is capable of doing that.”
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