On-island counseling now available to residents
Counseling sessions available to islanders are now taking place every other week, the first of which took place on Oct. 30. Although counselor Tom Arcangeli, from the South Shore Mental Health Center in Wakefield, is fully booked for his next session, anyone interested in speaking with him should contact Mental Health Task Force caseworker Tracey Fredericks at (207) 229-6349. Fredericks made the announcement at a meeting of the Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) on Nov. 4.
In addition to seeing individuals, Arcangeli is also available to work with families, including children and their parents.
According to Fredericks, Arcangeli’s sessions represent a milestone for the MHTF as it expands opportunities for offering mental health services on island — both through its telemedicine program and directly through a face-to-face counselor.
Fredericks pointed out there was no cost for the telemedicine program, and individuals with insurance would pay their usual copay for South Shore Services. She wanted to assure people that no one should avoid calling for service because of a difficulty paying fees.
As a mental health case worker, Fredericks coordinates the telemedicine program that makes appointments through an online program with psychiatrists that are affiliated with Brown University and on staff at Butler Hospital in Providence. Created through a joint effort between the MHTF, Brown and Butler, the computer counseling program has been up and running for nearly 10 months and has served some 16 islanders to date.
Fredericks said she was pleased to report that many people had been contacting her, either with referrals, inquiries or to make appointments.
As part of Fredericks’ training for the caseworker post, she enrolled in a 20-week Community Support Professional (CSP) program with classes held in Cranston on Thursdays through January 2014. She said among topics covered were trauma, ethical and liability issues, psychotropic medications and substance abuse.
NAMI: a work-in-progress
The MHTF itself was set up three years ago after the suicide of a local resident in 2010. Chair Steve Hollaway reiterated the board’s mission statement: “Our purposes are [that we] aim to bring mental health services to the island, to educate the public about mental illness and to provide support for families of persons with mental illness.”
Hollaway explained that this statement lined up directly with the goals of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, which are to “provide support, education and advocacy... on behalf of individuals and families affected by mental illness.” Because of that alignment, the local board recently began the process of affiliating with the state group (NAMI RI), changing its name to NAMI-Block Island.
However, Hollaway pointed out that though the two mission statements were similar, he felt the local group should highlight its unique role in “making services available on island.”
Other steps in the affiliation process will be to create bylaws and open a bank account under the task force’s new name, NAMI BI. A subcommittee comprised of Hollaway, Beth Tengwall and Bill Wilson are working on the bylaws, while Hollaway is also in the midst of securing the group’s non-profit status and tax-exempt number, which are being arranged through the affiliation with NAMI RI. The bank account was “still on hold,” Hollaway said, “until we work out the details.”
Noting that NAMI required the local group to pass a resolution of intent to affiliate, Hollaway asked task force members to vote to do so, which they did.
Initially working with funds ($20,000) donated by Dr. Michael Brownstein, the group currently has a balance of $10,710.62, Hollaway reported. Original monies have gone toward paying Fredericks’ salary and setting up the telemedicine program.
At this time, Hollaway explained the group needed to raise additional funds and said Brownstein had offered another $6,000 grant to match the donations of others. The group discussed ways to compile a list of potential donors. For that purpose, the board identified several sources of revenues, including national and state grant agencies, as well as the possibility of “applying to a church in Connecticut that had expressed interest,” Hollaway said.
Though no commitment had been made, representatives of that Connecticut church who are also part-time island residents, Penny and Will Young, were present at the meeting to help explore that potential.
The board looked over a draft, chiseling away at language highlighting the group’s accomplishments: the telemedicine program, face--to-face therapy sessions with a South Shore counselor, a number of programs offered on neuroscience, depression, bipolar illness, attachment theory, parenting, obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction as well as a 12-hour class in mental health first-aid.
The board also wanted to make the public aware that the MHTF had worked to “create more openness about mental illness on the island,” and soon hoped to “offer a support group for persons who deal with mental illness in a child, parent, spouse or sibling.”
In addition to raising money, the task force was concerned about drawing in more mental health professionals onto the board and hoping the island medical center would send a representative to the monthly meetings.
In the area of outreach to the community, Hollaway reported that last month Brownstein had given a “talk to science classes at the Block Island School.” Hollaway said he was in the process of speaking with the Prevention Task Force and hoping it would send a liaison to the MHTF meetings, as well.
Regarding concerns about addiction, Hollaway said at an earlier meeting, board members “discussed the need for intermediate sanctions for local youth caught with drugs rather than sending them to the mainland and into the juvenile justice system.”
Hollaway offered to “bring the subject up with the Prevention Task Force and encourage them to discuss it with the police.” One idea was to introduce a program in which older students could mentor younger ones, in order “to create positive peer pressure in the school.”
Wishing to continue the community dialogue, task force members agreed to reach out further to the school and library to develop educational programs on mental health issues.
The next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Dec. 2.