Free mental health services expanded in rural communities through state, IU partnership

INDIANAPOLIS -- Free and confidential support for stress, depression or anxiety, as well as resources for food, clothing, housing and health care, will be available via telehealth well-being services in several rural Indiana counties this fall.

The Indiana University School of Social Work and Center for Rural Engagement have launched these services with a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The initiative builds upon a two-month pilot program hosted at three rural libraries this summer in Bedford, Petersburg and Sullivan, Indiana. The program is led by School of Social Work associate professors John Keesler and David Wilkerson, and Todd Burkhardt, director of campus partnerships at the Center for Rural Engagement.

More than 76 percent of rural Indiana counties reported mental health care as a top community need, according to a 2020 briefing of community needs assessments. Across Indiana, the ratio of patients to each behavioral health provider is more than 1,200, and that patient ratio is significantly greater on average in rural communities.

A large brick building with an American flag.View print quality image
The Salem Public Library in Salem, Indiana, will serve as a location for free mental wellness telehealth appointments. Photo courtesy of the IU Center for Rural Engagement

"Collaborative efforts such as this are what we need to strengthen mental wellness among Hoosiers in rural areas," Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said. "I am happy to see the IU School of Social Work and Center for Rural Engagement, OCRA and these local communities work together to create this telehealth resource, and I am eager to see the positive results."

Appointments will be confidential and held in a local, private setting on a computer, which will connect with a professional through video chat. Residents will be able to reserve appointments to discuss concerns, and social work representatives will offer assistance via 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 our community members to connect with a social work professional who can help address these needs. We are excited to continue with this program and expand access to such a needed service."

Partnering with local libraries, the initiative will develop multiple social work practicum placements for second-year, graduate-level social work 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 a field liaison.

This program follows expanded educational resources from the School of Social Work's IU Online graduate certificate in e-social work practice, where students learn e-social work best practices, 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 from Lt. Gov. Crouch and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs for this grant, which will greatly increase access to vital mental health care support and services to those in our state's rural communities," IU President Pamela Whitten 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 careers within the state after graduation."

This initiative will help bridge 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 assess the viability of a telehealth mental well-being program in faith communities.

"It can be difficult to find accessible mental health resources, especially in rural communities," said Denny Spinner, executive director of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. "Offering a free telehealth service is a convenient and attainable resource I hope many rural Hoosiers in these counties will benefit from."

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

  • Bedford Public Library: 1323 K. St. in Bedford. Appointments are available from 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-275-4471 or email nwatson@bedlib.com.
  • Pike County Library, Petersburg Branch: 1008 Maple St. in Petersburg. Appointments are available 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to noon Fridays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-354-6257 or email p.clerks@pikeco.lib.in.us.
  • Salem Public Library: 212 N. Main St. in Salem. Appointments are available 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-883-5600 or email salemindianalibrary@hotmail.com.
  • Sullivan County Library: 100 S. Crowder St. in Sullivan. Appointments are available 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-268-4957 or email jorwig@sullivan.lib.in.us

For more information about scheduling appointments, visit the Center for Rural Engagement events page.

Contact

Kyla Cox Deckard

IU Center for Rural Engagement

Phone: 812-855-4992

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Cell: 812-219-9993

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Email: knblanke@indiana.edu

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