Louisiana Resilience: Bringing mental health awareness and training to Ouachita Parish

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In September 2021, the LSU AgCenter was awarded $622,271 for the mental health awareness training grant, Louisiana Resilience: Bringing Mental Health Awareness and Training to Ouachita Parish. This five-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant was written to provide training to school and community-based youth service professionals to strengthen access to mental health resources, specifically in Ouachita Parish.

The grant was written under the direction of Ashley Powell, Northeast 4-H Regional Coordinator and project director, in partnership with 7-Dippity, Inc., a consulting company specializing in building community capacity to support mental health needs. The plan was to pilot the program in Northeast Louisiana with the intent to expand across the state through future grant funding.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, access to any mental health service is problematic for all youth groups, regardless of race. The U.S. Public Health Service found that an estimated 20% of youth present with a diagnosable mental disorder, but only 5% to 7% receive specialty mental health services. While all Louisianians would benefit from mental health support, meeting the mental health needs of residents in rural Louisiana parishes proves challenging.

In 2020, Mental Health America ranked Louisiana 41st in access rankings to mental health care within the state. To add to that disparity, 2020 was an unprecedented year for Louisiana in terms of disaster. The state experienced its worst hurricane season on record, with direct impacts from five tropical systems that made landfall and indirect impacts from three additional storms.

This initiative aims to support the mental health needs of youth in Ouachita Parish by building the capacity of rural parishes to sustain community-based mental health strategies to support the provision of mental health services for youth and their families. The Louisiana Resilience Network initiative aims to provide mental health awareness training to school personnel and youth-serving organizations in Ouachita Parish while working together in developing and implementing a community-wide awareness and psychoeducation campaign. The focus will be on school-aged youth within the two public school systems which combine to serve approximately 27,000 students.

The grant has three distinctive goals:

To increase capacity of schools and community-based youth-serving organizations to understand the impacts of disaster on youth mental health, recognize signs and symptoms of youth mental health problems, and to make appropriate referrals to help youth and families access needed services.

To increase capacity of those same personnel to employ appropriate de-escalation techniques to safely and appropriately de-escalate youth crisis situations, including suicide risk.

To establish links between schools, organizations and mental health service providers to refer school-aged youth with signs or symptoms of serious emotional disturbances to appropriate services.

These goals are being targeted through the Ouachita Resilience Network, a group of almost 60 community organizations and school personnel that meet monthly. The ORN builds capacity by establishing a network of local stakeholders who work collectively to address the youth mental health needs of Ouachita Parish, by offering professional development opportunities for providers who work with youth and families, by collecting information on mental health resources in the parish, and by enhancing public understanding of youth mental health and the knowledge of mental health resources to support youth and their families.

Professional development trainings have been offered during this first grant year in conjunction with experts from centers of learning such as Yale University, the University of Miami and the Medical University of South Carolina. All the trainings have been funded through the Louisiana Resilience grant and offered to youth-serving professionals free of charge. At the close of the grant year, 286 professionals have attended 11 professional development opportunities provided by the grant. This includes a host of community-based youth-serving professionals, LSU AgCenter agents, and professionals and educators from Monroe City Schools and Ouachita Parish Schools. Along with these professional development opportunities, a 48-page interactive workbook was developed to assist with coping strategies to help children, parents and other caregivers cope with the psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or other disasters. More than 3,000 copies of this guide have been distributed throughout Ouachita Parish.

Moving into year two, the Louisiana Resilience focus remains on strengthening community relations and providing trainings as identified through the ORN partners. The network also plans to market a psycho-educational campaign to enhance public understanding of youth mental health challenges. As this initiative continues to develop and strengthen over the next four years, the goal is to not only promote awareness of mental health challenges and services, but to ultimately strengthen the youth and families of Ouachita Parish.

Graphic representing numbers significant to Ouachita Resilience Network activities.

3/1/2023 4:57:07 PM
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