New Mexico mental health system faces lack of professionals and inadequate information at conference

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June 16 – ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico’s mental health system is troubled by a shortage of professionals, inadequate information about services and a bad call in 2013, experts said Wednesday.

A conference titled “Transforming Behavioral Health in New Mexico” at Isleta Resort & Casino addressed these and other issues facing mental health care in that state. About 100 people attended the opening sessions of the two-day conference and more watched online. The conference is organized by New Mexico First, a nonprofit public policy group.

A topic that came up repeatedly was the importance of peer support and peer counselors – people who have experienced mental health and addiction issues and who patients could identify with. Some conference attendees said these people can play a role in addressing the shortage of mental health practitioners.

But in some cases, their experiences, such as run-ins with the law, can hamper their ability to help, some said.

Conference panelist Nikka Peralta said four DUI arrests and two domestic relations cases against her haven’t stopped her from starting a business in Albuquerque, Mending Hearts, that provides mental health services to clients.

But she said her case created bureaucratic hurdles to get to where she was and still complicated her efforts to gain state government approval to become a “comprehensive community support service”. This type of service supports people struggling with work, parenting and life skills.

“I want to be like someone’s safe place,” Peralta said in an interview. She’s been sober for over 10 years, but still “you hit all these walls, like boom, boom, boom.

“When is there enough time” to get past that, she asked. “Where is the pinhole of light? »

Dr. Mauricio Tohen, panelist and chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico’s health sciences department, said society needs to nurture more people who have been through battles and can help others.

“Peer support is key,” Tohen said.

Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, said the LGBTQ community struggles to find mental health services, especially in rural New Mexico, adding that finding therapists is also difficult. indigenous, gay or black.

Martinez said that as a peer, “my expertise is that I’ve lived it.”

People with conventional credentials can be hard to find in New Mexico and elsewhere. A 28-page report for the conference said the state faces “severe shortages in the number of professionals available” for mental health treatment.

“Shortages are significantly more prevalent in rural and border counties, but even the state’s major cities do not have enough workers and facilities to meet the needs,” the report said.

The document notes that 70 of the state’s 76 child and adolescent psychiatrists are in four counties, and 25 counties have no such services.

And the need is great. The newspaper reports that New Mexico has the second highest suicide rate in the country.

Among children aged 15 to 17, suicide and unintentional injuries are the leading causes of death. He also said a state report for 2021 shows New Mexico has the highest alcohol-related death rate in the nation for about 25 years.

The struggle to find available mental health practitioners is daily and often frustrating, said Mariela Ruiz-Angel, director of the Albuquerque Department of Community Safety.

“Right now you’re calling left and right,” she said.

“People just go online and see what they can find on Google,” Peralta said, describing a scenario in which those in need call practitioners, leave a message when no one answers, and then don’t receive a response. return call. .

“Why would anyone still want to ask for help? asked Peralta.

The conference report also described the behavioral health debacle of 2013 that stemmed from the state Department of Human Services’ decision to freeze Medicaid money for

15 mental health agencies. The reason involved “credible allegations of fraud,” the department argued, but all 15 were later cleared by the state attorney general’s office, according to the report.

“Many of these agencies were forced to close and hundreds of people lost their jobs,” the report said. “Many of these agencies never reopened.”

Speakers said programs such as the national mental health helpline 988 which will go live next month are a plus. The same goes for some programs in communities across the state.

The Albuquerque Department of Community Safety sends behavioral health responders to some emergency calls instead of police officers. San Juan County has established a Mental Health Resource Center for community outreach and information about mental health services.

Santa Fe CONNECT is a network of people in clinics, local government programs, and community organizations working to connect people in need to mental health services.

Tohen said the conference itself was a good sign.

“What we need,” he said, “is more of that.”

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