Valley News – Jim Kenyon: On mental health, Dartmouth College says ‘no thanks for the help’

Before its mobile crisis response team hit the road 24/7 in January, West Central Behavioral Health contacted schools, police departments and hospitals to inform them of the unique service available from the New Hampshire side. Upper Valley.

Seen as an indispensable new tool in the suicide prevention toolbox, West Central’s commitment to more on-the-ground work has been welcomed by government and community institutions.

With one exception: Dartmouth College.

The college’s response “kinda fell short, in our minds,” West Central CEO Roger Osmun said in our conversation Wednesday.

Last summer, Doug Williamson, a retired Alice Peck Day pediatrician who chairs West Central’s board, contacted Heather Earle, director of the Dartmouth counseling center.

Earle was “very enthusiastic, but once she started moving up the administrative ladder, it came to nothing,” Williamson, a 1985 Dartmouth graduate, told me on Thursday.

“I feel like Dartmouth are worried about losing control,” he added. “They try to do everything themselves.”

In light of recent tragedies on and off campus, Dartmouth’s position, We’ve Got What It Takes, is baffling.

Following news of the deaths of two students in late September, 500 members of the Dartmouth community gathered outside the library as college leaders spoke about, among other things, efforts to improve mental health services . “One size will never fit all,” said Scott Brown, acting dean of Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth Counseling Center offers 24-hour crisis mental health services. The center’s webpage has an extensive list of phone numbers for national helplines and emergency services in Upper Vallée, including Hanover Police and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center ER.

But no mention of West Central’s Mobile Crisis Response Team or the 24/7 New Hampshire Rapid Response crisis line that also launched in January.

I’d like to think the omissions have something to do with the services being brand new.

In a state not known for heavy spending on social services, New Hampshire officials last year approved $52.4 million in contracts with the state’s 10 mental health centers. West Central, which covers southern Grafton County and Sullivan County, saw its state endowment increase from $1.4 million to $3 million. He also raised private funds to support the crisis team.

New Hampshire’s new 24/7 mental health call center is linked to the state’s extensive network of mobile crisis teams. Trained staff respond to calls from people in mental health crisis – or anyone intervening on their behalf.

After assessing a caller’s needs, mental health workers decide whether or not to dispatch a crisis response team. (West Central’s seven-member team includes mental health clinicians with master’s degrees.)

“You don’t need insurance. You won’t get a bill,” said Osmun, a psychologist, who was named CEO of West Central in 2019, after working for 22 years at a nonprofit behavioral health organization that served suburban Philadelphia.

West Central adopted what Osmun calls the fire station model: “We have people who wake up and work at two in the morning.”

The two-person teams drive unmarked vehicles and wear casual clothes to meet callers in their homes, on street corners, in parking lots or wherever people prefer. “Ideally we should be able to keep 99% of people safe and in the community,” Osmun said.

On Thursday, Dartmouth announced it was partnering with Uwill, a teletherapy provider for students, to provide free access to mental health services by phone, video and chat, starting November 1. nation and as the campus mourns the loss of several community members,” a college press release said.

Which brings me back to West Central. The Lebanon-based nonprofit, which has provided outpatient mental health services since 1977, can offer something Dartmouth cannot.

Some students might not feel comfortable seeking mental health help from the institution, which in many ways controls their lives and their future. If they consult, is it part of their academic record? Who in Dartmouth potentially has access to this information?

“These things shouldn’t be obstacles” for students seeking help, Osmun said.

According to the counseling center’s webpage, it follows a “privacy policy that respects privacy and promotes better healthcare.”

The advice center goes on to say, however, that “if we think you are in imminent danger of serious self-harm, we may contact other providers, college administrators or safety and security, other services of public safety or your family”.

Because of this, some students may not want to “go through the Dartmouth system,” Williamson said.

West Central is not giving up. Williamson recently contacted an administrator from the Office of Student Life. He also visited his old fraternity of which he is an adviser.

The college is “moving in the right direction, but it could do more,” Williamson said.

In response to questions I had about Dartmouth not accepting offers of help from West Central, University spokeswoman Diana Lawrence emailed Friday, “We have been reviewing services crisis mobiles provided by West Central”.

Dartmouth recently declared October 21 a “day of caring”. Classes will be suspended to allow time to “mourn, learn and comfort each other”.

At the very least, Dartmouth should invite West Central to campus that day to share their information.

The goal, Williamson said, is to give students “as many resources as possible.”

The New Hampshire Rapid Response 24/7 emergency line can be reached by calling or texting 833-710-6477. To chat online, go to

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