Mental Health Treatment For The Most Vulnerable

Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services CEO Jeffrey Friedman (Photo courtesy of the Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services)

The Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services (CNG&CS) recently got a major boost when UnitedHealthcare awarded the nonprofit a $400,000 Empowering Health Grant Award. The Hicksville-based organization will be using the grant to fuel a multi-agency initiative to build a comprehensive system of care for Nassau County’s homeless and indigent populations. The funds will support the hiring of licensed clinicians and peer specialists to be placed on-site at emergency shelters, soup kitchens and other locations that provide social services to the community. For CNG&CS CEO Jeffrey Friedman, this development comes at a perfect juncture when the mental health repercussions from the current pandemic are starting to mount. 

“At CM Guidance, we see upwards of 7,000 people a year and that number has grown exponentially over the past six years,” Friedman explained. “Six years ago, we were seeing just under 2,000 people. In 2020, we’re seeing more than 7,000. And what we anticipate is that with this pandemic, more and more people that don’t normally enter the mental health or substance abuse service provider realm are going to be reaching out for health because of what trauma they’ve experienced during this pandemic.”

According to data released by nonprofit organization Mental Health America, at least 10,193 people experienced moderate to severe depression and at least 7,629 people screened moderate to severe for anxiety from late February through the end of April as a result of the pandemic. It’s a trend Friedman only sees escalating as the pandemic wears on.

“From what I’m seeing on social media, more and more people are getting depressed and anxious and are drinking to cope with the issues of being quarantined, unemployed and not being able to pay their bills,” he said. “Those folks are going to need an outlet to be treated. In the past, stigma prevented people from getting treatment. You’re going to see more and more people just reaching out and asking for help. They’re not going to care what the stigma is—they just need help, and that’s okay. The next epidemic that we’re going to see after this [pandemic] is a mental health one.”

With most of the money from this grant going to staffing, CNG&CS will be augmenting its 350-plus staff with a group of peers and clinicians that able to provide treatment to individuals that need it the most. Several psychiatrists are on staff that patients would have access to, so if someone needs to go on medication, they’d be able to be assessed for that. The crux of the program is reaching the most vulnerable parts of the population where they live.

“The idea is about bringing clinicians to the front line and meeting people where they’re at,” Friedman said. “The emergency shelters in Nassau County—those folks are homeless and that’s because of a variety of challenges that they have. Many of them have mental health or substance abuse issues, so when they get into the emergency shelters our program is to strike while the iron is hot. We would be able to assess them at the shelter and see them immediately in terms of connecting them to treatment and to be able to provide treatment on site. We can provide treatment virtually in the facility and begin their road to recovery in terms of getting them on the path of healing. It’s as simple as not waiting for somebody to come in for an appointment, but just being there where they’re at when they need help.”

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