Information is Power

Too often, women and girls in our region who struggle with mental health issues can't connect with the specific help they need. "There are services out there, but finding out about all of them is incredibly difficult," says Sharon Ball, who chaired an ad hoc advocacy committee on mental health for the Community Foundation's Women's Fund.

The Women's Fund formed the committee in late 2014 to measure the gap between available mental health services and needs in our region, learn how that gap affects women and girls and advocate for changes to help close the gap.

The initiative started when Dr. Camelia Lawrence, a breast surgeon who was then a member of the Women's Fund's Leadership Committee, spoke of the obstacles some of her patients faced when they needed mental health services. In response, the Leadership Committee launched an in-depth effort to map the local mental health landscape.

Members of the ad hoc committee hosted a focus group with local decision makers involved in mental health. They later surveyed focus group participants about their priorities for service improvements. In addition, they met with people from the New York State Office of Mental Health's Mobile Integration Team, 2-1-1/First Call for Help at United Way of Broome County and the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier (MHAST) to learn about their offerings.

The biggest finding to emerge from this research was the lack of coordination and collaboration among providers, says ad hoc committee member Linda Biemer. "Different agencies don't seem to know what other agencies are doing."

When a woman or girl doesn't get the help she needs, often it's simply because there's no one to point her toward appropriate services.

Having evaluated the problem, committee members determined how the Women's Fund could make a real difference. "We could help to fund information and referral sources at an agency, to bring things together and stay on top of them—who's still seeing patients, who's providing what," says Jennifer Small, another committee member.

The Women's Fund invited MHAST to submit a proposal for a mental health information and referral service. That grant was approved in 2016 and will be funded by the Women's Fund in conjunction with the Community Foundation.

"The Mental Health Association is in a wonderful position to help," says Ball. It has experience, good contacts in the community and strong name recognition, she says.

Lawrence is pleased with the way the Women's Fund responded to her initial observations. "What a great group of women, to rally behind this not only to listen, but to develop an action plan and do the leg work for an entire year," she says. "They have come up with a resolution that I think is effective and will work."

May 2017 Update: Our own Dr. Lawrence just received the "2017 Fairfield County Doctor of Distinction" award by Fairfield County Business Journal, a Westfair Communications publication. Dr. Lawrence will be presented with the "Female Trailblazer" Award at a reception at The Waters Edge at Giovanni's in Darien during a benefit for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Here's the link to that story; congratulations Dr. Lawrence!


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