Chestnut Ridge Counseling Services CEO Mike Quinn (Herald-Standard photo).
By Alyssa Choiniere
CONNELLSVILLE, Pa. — Chestnut Ridge Counseling Services in Connellsville is expanding its services through participation in newly launched state and federal programs, said CEO Mike Quinn.
Chestnut Ridge recently became one of the 13 crisis centers in Pennsylvania that can be accessed by calling 988, he said.
The federal program launched in July and allows callers in crisis to access help by dialing the three digits, he said. The program works similarly to 911, connecting callers to the nearest center based on their location. Dialing 988 is a new way to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“It’s been discussed at the federal level the last few years, but really got some more traction, I believe, because of the covid pandemic,” he said, which caused an increase in mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Quinn said he believes the program destigmatizes the need for emergency mental health care, and it is easier to remember.
“You just dial those three digits, and you can get right to someone that will help you,” he said.
Callers can also still call the Chestnut Ridge Crisis Line at 724-437-1003.
“We’ve always been the 24-hour mental health and crisis service for Fayette County,” he said. “That has been going on for 25 or more years.”
Since the program launched, he said they have seen an increase of about 20% in calls to their crisis line. He said he believes the state is holding off on major promotional campaigns until they can ensure the program is running smoothly.
“The state and the federal government have a goal that 98% of these calls need to be answered immediately,” he said. “If Chestnut Ridge’s 988 line is busy, it will jump to one of the other call centers.”
He said they have received a handful of calls transferred from other calling centers. The program seems to be running smoothly so far, he said.
Chestnut Ridge is also offering new services to area school districts.
“With the pandemic affecting young people so much, there has been federal money and state money that’s been funneled to the school districts for safety and security and COVID precautions as well as trying to address the mental wellness of their students,” he said.
Brownsville, Connellsville, Uniontown, Laurel Highlands, South Allegheny and Turkeyfoot school districts have all signed agreements with Chestnut Ridge to provide mental health services in their districts. Through the agreement, Chestnut Ridge provides mental health therapists to the school districts to provide therapy and classroom support, in addition to providing assessments.
“Those individuals can basically work with the school districts and identify the overall mental wellness needs of the school district and try to address those,” he said.
School districts can also ask for additional support in certain areas, such as training faculty to recognize signs of anxiety and depression or providing resources on truancy issues. They are also working with school districts to identify students who might need additional support.
“We can work on whatever the school thinks is important – increasing mental wellness education as well as going into school health classes and talking about recognizing your own signs of anxiety and other kinds of therapy you can use,” he said.
He commended the school districts for connecting their students to mental health services.
“I give them a lot of credit. They’re really trying to recognize the mental wellness needs of our students,” he said.
Chestnut Ridge is planning to use donations for continuing education and to support clients in need. He said several client families have lost their homes to fires in recent years, and Chestnut Ridge offered support through their fund to provide furniture and fill other monetary needs.
He said he also wants to use donations toward educating staff on evidence-based practices, which they can access through training and certifications to expand techniques used in their therapeutic practices.
Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pa. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort of the Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Readers may email her at [email protected].
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