Free mental health services expanded in rural communities across the state, IU: News at IU: Indiana University partnership

INDIANAPOLIS – Free and confidential support for stress, depression or anxiety, as well as resources for food, clothing, shelter, and health care, will be available through wellness telemedicine services in several rural Indiana counties this fall.

The Indiana University School of Social Work and the Center for Rural Engagement launched these services with a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The initiative builds on a two-month pilot program hosted in three rural libraries this summer in Bedford, Petersburg and Sullivan, Indiana. The program is led by School of Social Work associate professors John Keesler and David Wilkerson and Todd Burkhardt, director of campus partnerships at the Center for Rural Engagement.

According to a 2020 briefing on community needs assessments, more than 76 percent of rural Indiana counties reported mental health care as a major community need. Across Indiana, the ratio of patients to each behavioral health care worker is more than 1,200, and that ratio of patients is significantly higher on average in rural communities.

“Collaborative efforts like this are what we need to strengthen mental well-being among the Hoosiers in rural areas,” said Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch. “I am delighted to see the IU School of Social Work and Center for Rural Engagement, OCRA and these local communities working together to create this telemedicine resource and look forward to seeing the positive results.”

Appointments will be reserved and held in a private, local environment on a computer, which will connect with a professional via video chat. Residents will be able to book appointments to discuss concerns and social care representatives will offer assistance through resources and references that support their needs.

“Libraries are many people’s first stop for essential services and we see people with a variety of emotional and social needs,” said Nathan Watson, director of the Bedford Public Library. “This partnership allows members of our community to connect with a social work professional who can help meet these needs. We are thrilled to continue with this program and expand access to such a much needed service.”

In partnership with local libraries, the initiative will develop multiple social work placements for second-year students of social work on the Bloomington IU campus. Students will complete up to 640 hours during the academic year under the supervision of a field instructor who is a licensed social worker and field liaison.

This program follows the expanded educational resources of the School of Social Work’s Online IU Graduate Certificate in Electronic Social Work Practice, in which students learn best practices in electronic social work, emergency planning, and delivery in individual settings and group. In this certificate, students apply their skills in simulation-based learning.

“We are grateful for the support of Lieutenant Governor Crouch and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs for this grant, which will greatly increase access to vital mental health support and services for our state’s rural communities,” the IU president Pamela Whitten said. “IU will develop a model that leverages university-community partnerships for better health outcomes, which will also foster the professional connections of our students here in Indiana, helping them establish careers within the state upon graduation.”

This initiative will help bridge the gap in mental health services that often exists in rural communities, provide rural residents with free accessible services, and provide students with additional opportunities for professional development and applied experience. The IU team will also conduct interviews with religious leaders to gather information on current efforts to address mental health and addictions in their religious communities and assess the feasibility of a telemedicine mental wellbeing program in religious communities.

“It can be difficult to find accessible resources for mental health, especially in rural communities,” said Denny Spinner, executive director of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. “Offering a free telemedicine service is an affordable and accessible resource, I hope that many rural Hoosiers in these counties will benefit.”

Appointments are available for adults aged 18 and over at the following locations:

  • Bedford Public Library: 1323 K. St. in Bedford. Appointments are available from 17:00 to 19:00 on Mondays and from 10:00 to 12:00 on Wednesdays. To make an appointment, call 812-275-4471 or email [email protected]
  • Pike County Library, Petersburg Branch: 1008 Maple St. in Petersburg. Appointments are available from 15:00 to 17:00 on Mondays and from 10:00 to 12:00 on Fridays. To make an appointment, call 812-354-6257 or email [email protected]
  • Salem Public Library: 212 N. Main St. in Salem. Appointments are available from 10:00 to 12:00 on Mondays and from 15:00 to 17:00 on Wednesdays. To make an appointment, call 812-883-5600 or email [email protected]
  • Sullivan County Library: 100 S. Crowder St. in Sullivan. Appointments are available from 16:00 to 18:00 on Mondays and from 10:00 to 12:00 on Thursdays. To make an appointment, call 812-268-4957 or email [email protected]

For more information on scheduling appointments, visit the Center for Rural Engagement events page.

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