Free mental health services expand to rural communities through statewide, IU partnership: News at IU: Indiana University

INDIANAPOLIS — Free and confidential support for stress, depression or anxiety, as well as resources for food, clothing, housing and health care, will be available through wellness telehealth 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 held at three rural libraries this summer in Bedford, Petersburg and Sullivan, Indiana. The program is led by School of Social Work associate professors John Kiesler and David Wilkerson, and Todd Burkhardt, director of campus partnerships at the Center for Rural Engagement.

More than 76 percent of Indiana’s rural counties report that mental health care is a top community need, according to a 2020 Briefing on Community Needs Assessments. Across Indiana, the ratio of patients to each behavioral health provider is more than 1,200, and this ratio of patients is significantly higher on average in rural communities.

“Collaborative efforts like this are what we need to strengthen mental health among rural Hoosiers,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. “I am happy to see the IU School of Social Work and the Center for Rural Engagement, OCRA and these local communities work together to create this telehealth resource, and I look forward to seeing the positive results.”

Meetings will be confidential and will take place in a local private setting on a computer that will connect with a professional via video chat. Residents will be able to book appointments to discuss their concerns and social work representatives will offer help through resources and referrals 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 address these needs. We are excited to continue this program and expand access to such a needed service.”

In partnership with local libraries, the initiative will develop multiple social work internships for second-year social work graduate students from the IU Bloomington 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 advanced educational resources from the IU School of Social Work’s Online Graduate Certificate in Electronic Social Work Practice, where students learn best practices in electronic social work, emergency planning, and delivery in individual and group settings. In this certificate, students apply their competencies in simulation-based learning.

“We are grateful for the support of Lt. 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 those in our state’s rural communities,” IU President Pamela Wheaton said. “IU will develop a model that leverages university-community partnerships for better health outcomes, which will also foster our students’ professional connections here in Indiana, helping them establish in-state careers after graduation.”

This initiative will help address 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 faith leaders to gather information about current efforts to address mental health and addictions in their faith communities and to assess the viability of a telehealth mental wellness program in faith communities.

“It can be difficult to find affordable mental health resources, especially in rural communities,” said Danny Spinner, executive director of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. “Offering a free telehealth service is a convenient and affordable resource that I hope many rural Hoosiers in these counties will take advantage of.”

Appointments are available to adults 18 and older at the following locations:

  • Bedford Public Library: 1323 K. St. in Bedford. Appointments are available from 5pm to 7pm on Mondays and from 10am to noon on Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-275-4471 or email [email protected]
  • Pike County Library, Petersburg Branch: 1008 Maple St. in Petersburg. Appointments are available from 3pm to 5pm on Mondays and from 10am to noon on Fridays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-354-6257 or email [email protected]
  • Salem Public Library: 212 N. Main St. in Salem. Appointments are available from 10am to noon on Mondays and from 3pm to 5pm on Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-883-5600 or email [email protected]
  • Sullivan County Library: 100 S. Crowder St. in Sullivan. Appointments are available from 4pm to 6pm on Mondays and from 10am to noon on Thursdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-268-4957 or email [email protected]

For more information on scheduling meetings, visit the Center for Rural Engagement’s events page.

Leave a Comment