Lebanon County organization sees increased demand for behavioral health services | Community News


Over the past two years, Lebanon County Youth Advocacy Programs have seen an 18% increase in demand for behavioral health services designed to provide families with support and work on coping skills and functioning. daily.

Youth Advocate Programs is a national nonprofit organization based in Harrisburg that partners with juvenile justice, child protection, behavioral health, public safety and other systems to provide community services as an alternative to youth incarceration, collective residential care/treatment and neighborhood violence.

YAP Lebanon serves 25 people between the ages of 2 and 21 through its behavioral health services program, and 10 people are on the referral list – a list created out of necessity for the first time this year, said Diedra Dieter, director of behavioral health of YAP Lebanon and Schuylkill counties.

“There was always a crisis,” Deiter said. “We’ve always been here, but I think people are more comfortable asking for help and it’s come in droves.”

YAP is present in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Behavioral health services began in 1996 in Lebanon and are one of four general categories of services offered. More and more participants in YAP’s behavioral health program are personal or family referrals.

Deiter said she believes that during the pandemic, people have received more media messages about mental health from celebrities and athletes on social media and many other platforms that have made people more informed. comfortable asking for help.

“People now seem to understand that you shouldn’t be punished or shamed for addressing mental health issues,” Deiter said.

The increase in demand has led to the need to hire more staff, and YAP Lebanon is in the process of hiring two more behavioral health staff, according to Dieter. Additionally, they are working to hire additional mobile therapists, who must have a master’s degree. Behavioral health personnel must have a high school diploma and 40 hours of state-specific training.

Private funding is needed to support the staff increase through local individual donors as well as national funding from philanthropic and corporate foundations, said Kelly Williams, director of marketing and communications for YAP.

Behavioral health services are designed to meet the needs of a child who may have behavioral or mental health issues at home that affect their ability to function within their family unit, according to Deiter. The YAP program is designed for specialists to come to homes to observe families together.

Nevaeh began working with YAP mobile therapist Jennah Kuhn in June 2020. Nevaeh’s last name is withheld to protect her identity.

“I couldn’t go into a store without having a panic attack,” Nevaeh said. “I don’t think if I had to go into an office, I would have. Coming to my place makes me much more comfortable because it is my safe space.

Kuhn thinks going to homes helps her as a therapist because she can see what’s going on in the house and respond to it instead of relying on stories in an office. Kuhn said it’s also helpful that the time she spends with program participants is flexible. So while participants in the program are prescribed a time frame per month, the distribution of that time varies based on participants’ different needs, Kuhn explained.

Nevaeh said when she first started seeing Kuhn she was self-harming and when she moved from online school to public school she isolated herself and did not participate. to classes or extracurricular activities.

Now she is involved in athletics, tennis and golf, Nevaeh said. Nevaeh’s mother said she noticed her daughter was more inclined to hang out with her friends and had the confidence to complete tasks that were previously impossible, such as ordering a soda at McDonald’s.

The growing need for services

The 18% increase in demand for services in Lebanon reflects national data on the current state of mental health needs in the United States.

In December 2020, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that since 2019, there has been a 24% increase in mental health-related ER visits among children ages 5-11 and older. a 31% increase in children aged 12 to 17. Additionally, the CDC reported that more than a third of high school students in 2021 said they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and 44% said they felt constantly sad or hopeless during the course. of the past year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that in 2020, 3 million adolescents, whom they classify as ages 12 to 17, reported serious suicidal thoughts.

In December 2021, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released a new Surgeon General’s Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the country’s youth mental health crisis.

According to the US Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by Covid-19 Pandemic from December 2021, scientists have offered various potential theories as to why there is a current trend of youth mental health crisis. Theories include:

  • young people become more willing to discuss mental health issues openly

  • growing use of digital media

  • increased academic pressure

  • limited access to mental health care

  • health risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use

  • broader stressors such as the 2008 financial crisis, growing income inequality, racism, gun violence and climate change.

Dieter believes the increase is due to people feeling more comfortable asking for help and discussing mental health.

“People feel free to call and ask questions like, ‘What do you have to offer? How can you help me?’ said Dieter.


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