Lebanon County organization sees rise in demand for behavioral health services | Community News

Lebanon County organization sees rise in demand for behavioral health services |  Community News
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In the past two years, Youth Advocate Programs in Lebanon County have seen an 18% increase in demand for behavioral health services designed to offer families support and work on coping skills and daily functioning.

Youth Advocate Programs is a national nonprofit headquartered in Harrisburg that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, public safety and other systems to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate residential care/treatment, and neighborhood violence.

YAP Lebanon is servicing 25 people between the ages of 2 and 21 through its behavior health services program, and 10 people are on the referral list – a list created out of necessity for the first time this year, said Diedra Dieter, behavioral health director of YAP Lebanon & Schuylkill Counties.

“There’s always been a crisis,” said Deiter. “We’ve always been here but I think people are more comfortable asking for help and it has come in droves.”

YAP is in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Behavioral health services started in 1996 in Lebanon and is one of four general categories of services offered. Increasingly more of YAP’s behavioral health program participants are self or family referrals.

Deiter said that she believes that during the pandemic, people got more media messages about mental health from celebrities and athletes from social media and many other platforms that have made people more comfortable to reach out for help.

“People now seem to understand that you shouldn’t be punished or made to feel ashamed about addressing any mental health concerns,” Deiter said.

The increase in demand has resulted in the need for hiring more staff, and YAP Lebanon is in the process of hiring two more behavioral health staffers, according to Dieter. Additionally, they are working to hire additional mobile therapists, who must have master’s degrees. Behavioral health staff must have a high school diploma and 40 hours of state-specific training.

Private funding is needed to support the increase in staff through local individual donors and also national funding from philanthropic foundations and businesses, said Kelly Williams, chief marketing and communications officer for YAP.

Behavioral health services are designed to address the needs of a child who may have some behavioral or mental health concerns in the home that affect their ability to function within their family unit, according to Deiter. The YAP program is designed so that specialists go to homes to observe the families together.

Nevaeh began working with YAP mobile therapist Jennah Kuhn in June 2020. Nevaeh’s last name is being held to protect her identity.

“I couldn’t go to a store without having a panic attack,” Nevaeh said. “I don’t think if I would have had to go to an office, I would have done it. Coming to my house makes me a lot more comfortable because it is my safe space.”

Kuhn believes that going into homes helps her as a therapist, because she can see what is happening in the household and address it instead of relying on stories in an office setting. Kuhn said that it is also helpful that the amount of time she spends with program participants is flexible. So while program participants are prescribed an amount of time a month, how that time is broken up varies depending on the different needs of participants, Kuhn explained.

Nevaeh said that when she first started seeing Kuhn, she was engaged in self-harm, and when she switched from online school to public school, she isolated and didn’t participate in classes or extracurriculars.

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Now, she is involved with track, tennis and golf, Nevaeh said. Nevaeh’s mother said she notices that her daughter is more inclined to go out with her friends and has the confidence to do tasks that were impossible before, like ordering a soda at McDonald’s.

The rising need of services

The 18% increase in demand for services in Lebanon mirrors national data on the current state of the mental health needs in the United States.

In December of 2020 the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that since 2019 there has been a 24% increase in mental health related emergency department visits among children 5-11 and a 31% increase among children 12-17. Additionally, the CDC reported that, more than a third of high school students in 2021 reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under US Department of Health and Human Services reported that in 2020, 3 million adolescents, who they categorize as age 12-17, reported serious thoughts of suicide.

In December 2021, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.

According to the December 2021 US Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by Covid-19 Pandemic, scientists have proposed various potential theories as to why there is the current trend with youth mental health crisis. Theories include:

  • young people becoming more willing to openly discuss mental health concerns

  • growing use of digital media

  • increasing academic pressure

  • limited access to mental health care

  • health risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use

  • broader stressors such as the 2008 financial crisis, rising income inequality, racism, gun violence, and climate change.

Dieter believes the rise is because people are becoming more comfortable asking for help and discussing mental health.

“People are feeling free to just call and ask questions like ‘What do you have to offer? How can you help me?’ ” Dieter said.

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