Recognizing that the Internet has become a first point of contact for many people looking to access mental health care information, the states of Vermont and Connecticut each recently announced the launch of Web sites aimed at creating greater access to information, discussion forums, basic advice and contact or hotline numbers.
In Vermont, the Center for Health and Learning has partnered with the Vermont Department of Mental Health in developing a site geared toward suicide prevention. The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VSPC), was recently created as a state-wide resource designed to support prevention efforts and assist communities in implementing suicide prevention practices. The site, launched in September during National Suicide Prevention Week, features a cleanly designed homepage with links to hotlines and screening tools, school, community and professional resources and access to information about Vermont-based suicide prevention programs.
“More and more, people of all ages are using the Internet for information, resources, and even to seek help,” says JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, director of the VSPC, “The site includes hotlines and interactive tools and is meant to be a comprehensive resource for Vermont and even nationally for others.”
There are, of course, many sites geared toward suicide prevention, including the many national sites. The VSPC hopes to act as a complement to those sites, says Tarallo-Falk, providing another entrance point for people looking for suicide prevention information.
“This is a local site with Vermont resources for mental health, focused on Vermont data,” she says
In Connecticut, mental health advocates working with the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board saw a need for something beyond what was being offered anywhere else, locally or nationally, with a site aimed at young adults. TurningPointCT.org, is funded through the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and was launched the same week as the Vermont site.
“We have always had vibrant young adult services,” says Mary Mason, public relations manager for DMHAS. Most of that population, though, came to them through the state’s mental health agencies as they aged out of programs for younger people. “We were seeing less of individuals 18-25 who never had services before and that can be the onset of some behavioral health disorders so we were looking to reach people earlier so that outcomes for treatment would be better.”
According to Margaret Watts, TurningPointCT’s executive director, the project coordinators researched the sites available to this age group throughout the country and found that, while there are many Web sites for mental health, there were very few specifically geared towards young adults and, of those, only a handful that passed certain “quality parameters” the coordinators set.
“We did find three but none of them automatically came up on a search engine when we used common search words,” she says. “But we don’t think that there is anything exactly like this out there.”
Working with professionals and a cadre of young adults who have been in recovery for mental health and substance abuse, the coordinators set out to create a site that offers a unique opportunity for youth to connect with each other, upload videos or poems, meet in online forums, have questions answered by peers and to access valid treatment and mental health information, links and phone numbers for local and national support.
“We have young adults in focus groups and we did research asking them, ‘What would you use?’” Watts says. “The site is designed by young people by what they felt was needed. These were people in recovery who said, ‘this is what I would have been looking for five, six years ago and I want to help people not have to go through what I went through.’”
By Catherine Robertson Souter