Regional
10:59 am
Tue April 10, 2012

NMSU Will Open Community Mental Health Clinic

A new mental health care clinic aimed at serving needy residents throughout Dona Ana County is about to be launched through the joint efforts of New Mexico State University's College of Education and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

The creation of the New Mexico State University Community Mental Health and Wellness Clinic will be announced during a special event at 4 p.m., April 16, in the atrium of O'Donnell Hall on the NMSU campus. The clinic is expected to open to the public by July, and will be operating temporarily out of the family housing area at NMSU.

"There's a real need in our community for mental health services," said Jonathan Schwartz, head of the counseling and education psychology department in the College of Education. "Our county is a mental health disparity area, meaning there are not enough mental health practitioners for the people in need. That's especially true for people who don't have financial resources." 

According to a 2002 state government study, mental disorders affected close to 369,000 residents in New Mexico. At that time, just 19 percent of adults and 52 percent of children and adolescents needing public sector mental health services were being served. A 2006 report by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill rated New Mexico second lowest in per capita spending for state-directed mental health services.

In Dona Ana County, some of the barriers to obtaining mental health care include a lack of transportation, infrastructure, physicians and cultural understanding, as well as limited inpatient services and less-than-timely access to medications, according to a 2006 report from the Dona Ana County Health and Human Services Alliance.

"There are a lot of great models for university mental health care clinics and we thought this is a place where we have the resources and there is a major need in the community," Schwartz said. "It just seemed natural that we would try to meet that need through developing our clinic."

The NMSU Community Mental Health and Wellness Clinic unites the efforts of existing counseling services provided by the College of Education's Department of Counseling and Education Psychology and Family and Consumer Sciences' Marriage and Family Therapy program in ACES. 

Leaders of the two counseling programs began working on creating the joint clinic last year with the blessings of their respective deans, Lowell Catlett in ACES and Michael Morehead in the College of Education.

Schwartz said the two colleges already have pooled their resources to hire a part-time clinic coordinator. With counseling services from both programs soon sharing the same space, the hope is to make the clinic coordinator position full time. 

Since the goal of the new clinic primarily is to serve low-income members of the community outside of NMSU, most students in need of counseling will continue to be routed to the NMSU Counseling Center, Schwartz said.

Meanwhile, the NMSU Community Mental Health and Wellness Clinic will be working closely with other mental health care providers in the community. 

"We are inviting all of the mental health agencies in the community and we want to talk about how we are all going to collaborate as we get this clinic going," Schwartz said. "We really want to be a referral agency for people who have difficulty getting services."

Patients at the NMSU Community Mental Health and Wellness Clinic will be charged on a sliding scale, with insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, also accepted.

"If people can afford to pay they will," said Esther Devall, interim head of the Family and Consumer Sciences department. "But if they can't, they won't. Generally, the research shows that people are more committed to something and feel it's more valuable if they pay something. So, even if they only pay $5, it gives the session more value to them."

But, Devall pointed out, the purpose of the clinic is not to make money; it is to address the unmet needs in the community and provide training for NMSU students studying psychology. Those students, along with the clinic coordinator and faculty, will be staffing the facility.

"We're going to have very careful screening procedures and we have students who are licensed at the master's level, so we have people who already have been practitioners in the community," Schwartz said. "We also have students who have a lot of experience. We'll be very careful whom we screen out. We'll have faculty see very serious clientele or refer them out to other mental health providers in the community. Also, we have very hands-on supervision of students seeing clients."

In addition, the clinic will have the ability to provide bilingual mental health services, which are of vital importance in a community such as Dona Ana County.

By merging the Counseling and Education Psychology and the Marriage and Family Therapy programs, the counseling and psychology students also will be exposed to new theories and counseling approaches, and have the opportunity to learn from each other.

"It's good for students to be exposed to new ways of thinking about and addressing mental health issues," Devall said.