Cleveland County YMCA to add mental health services

·5 min read
Cameron Corder
Cameron Corder

In the face of an ever growing need for accessible mental health care, the local Y is one of a handful in the nation stepping up to address the issue with plans to add an on-site licensed therapist to their staff beginning this year.

Cameron Corder, CEO of the Cleveland County YMCA, said the therapist will rotate among the three branches —one in Kings Mountain, one in Boiling Springs and one in Shelby — and will be a resource to anyone in the community.

Not only will this make care more accessible, but Corder hopes it will remove some of the stigma associated with receiving mental health care.

“We’re cause driven,” Corder said. “We're trying to meet the needs of the community.”

Piper Barnes, director of annual giving and marketing, said the Y is committed to living out its mission of caring for people - body, mind and spirit.

It is needed now, more than ever.

“COVID exacerbated mental health issues,” Corder said.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the U.S. surgeon general warned that young people are facing a mental health crisis that has been worsened by the pandemic. Emergency room visits in the U.S. for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls in 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report issued by the nation’s top physician. The figure rose 4% for boys.

Globally, symptoms of anxiety and depression doubled during the pandemic, the report noted. But mental health issues were already on the rise in the U.S., with ER visits related to depression, anxiety and related issues up 28% from 2007 to 2018.

Corder said the numbers are “staggering,” and not to be ignored.

He said there has been an increase in loneliness, especially among seniors, and an uptick in anxiety and depression, particularly among teen girls. Compounding the issue is a national shortage of therapists.

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A mental health component to the YMCA has been a goal for Corder for the past 15 years and with the current crisis, has been brought front and center. More than a decade ago, he made a promise to work on the addition of addiction counseling and therapy to the Y after seeing several local friends and family struggle with these issues.

“We’ve been looking at this for a decade,” he said. “This is very innovative.”

The plan is to have GWU masters level students complete coursework during internships at the YMCA as well as have a licensed therapist on-site who will rotate among the three branches in the county.

Corder envisions a space where people can not only physically work on themselves, but mentally and emotionally as well. Anyone in the community can access these services, which Corder hopes will include addiction counseling, treatment for depression or anxiety, grief counseling, trauma care, therapy for the LIVEstrong cancer patients and treatment for those with an eating disorder and more.

He said they hope to have both group and virtual sessions.

The goal is to have a therapist hired by the first quarter of 2022, and then over the next 90 days, work on the infrastructure, software and marketing.

The YMCA received a grant for $200,000 which will subsidize operations for the first three years.

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After those three years are up, then the YMCA hopes it will be a self-sustaining program.

Currently, only a handful of YMCAs offer a mental health component, and most of them are in larger metropolitan areas which offer housing assistance and other services.

Doctors will refer patients to the program, and it will be available for both YMCA members and non-members.

“There is certainly a growing need for mental health services, especially amid COVID,” said Dr. Sharon Webb, program coordinator for Gardner-Webb University’s clinical mental health counseling programs.

Webb also teaches and oversees the clinical mental health counseling practicum and internships.

“Our intern site supervisors have shared that they are having to refer clients out to other areas because they don't have enough available licensed counselors,” she said.

According to 2021 County Health Ranking data, in Cleveland County, the ratio of people to mental health professionals is 730 to one.

Webb will be meeting with the YMCA’s potential licensed counselor prior to the GWU mental health counselor interns beginning work at the Y to ensure needs of both parties are met.

The interns will see clients under direct supervision from a licensed clinical mental health counselor on-site at the YMCA. They will also be under university supervision.

“Mental health and physical health affect each other, and even something as simple as unmanaged stress affects our physical health, just as physical health helps with managing stress,” Webb said. “I am excited for GWU to join with the YMCA to support mental and physical health needs for our Cleveland County community.”

Dr. Anna Hamrick, GWU associate professor of nursing and associate director of the Hunt school of nursing, said the need for access to mental health support has been increasing in the county for a number of years.

“The demand has been more pronounced with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “In my work as a nurse practitioner, educator, and community volunteer, I have seen the challenges individuals have to face in navigating the system.”

Katie Varnadoe, Partners Health Management regional director of community operations, said because the YMCA serves a large demographic of individuals of all ages, having a therapist on site will help people make the connection that taking care of mental health is just as important as taking care of physical health.

“The YMCA is truly being progressive in addressing whole-person wellness and making behavioral health services available to their members,” she said. “Individuals that may not otherwise know where to go for help will have access in an environment that they are already comfortable in.”

Varnadoe said Partners is proud to be a collaborator with community partners such as the YMCA.

“These partnerships help us meet our mission of improving lives and strengthening communities. The YMCA is helping to turn the curve in the delivery of behavioral health services and integrating whole person wellness in the community,” she said.

This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: Cleveland County YMCA adds mental health services starting in 2022

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