A Creative, Collaborative Vision for Delivering Mental Health Services

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, where love of nature and quality of life rank high in the priorities of our residents and visitors. Nestled between snow peaks and swimming in lupines, we feel pride and gratitude for our secluded heaven.

Still, like anywhere, North Tahoe-Truckee faces challenges that lower the quality of life for some residents. One thing we are confronted with is a consequence of our seclusion: a lack of accessible mental health care services. This is common in rural communities, in fact a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that 65% of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and 47% don’t have a psychologist. This is because funding is difficult to secure when most grants and government dollars seem to be more strategically spent where there is the greatest need, aka more densely populate areas.

Nearly all of us (as in 43.4 million adults in a single year) will face a mental health challenge over the course of our lives whether it’s situational depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts. Lack of support is a serious problem. Unfortunately, when accessing services means traversing arctic rivers or 6 hours of traffic, people put off seeking care until they’re in crisis. So how do we prioritize making prevention and early intervention available to those we sit next to on the gondola and the children we see playing at the Lake?

In 2005, California’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) began disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars annually to expand services to children, adults, and families by portioning dollars to counties through several areas of impact. Placer County has contracted Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF) since 2011 to facilitate grants in our region. Jennifer Cook, Placer County’s MHSA Coordinator, collaborates with Phyllis McConn, TTCF Community Impact Officer, to think creatively about how the funding can be used most effectively in a region where mental health services are lacking.

The current multi-year grant cycle is focused on prevention and early intervention services to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and provide preventative services to avert mental health crises. The grantees, listed below, have been longtime collaborators through the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee (CCTT), a TTCF program, and work together to respond to the evolving needs of the adults and families they serve.

This August, CA State Department of Health and Placer County representatives came to North Tahoe-Truckee to interview the grantees and receive clarification on the efficacy of how these non-traditional grants fit into a very rigid government funding standard. The group met representatives from each of the grantee agencies for a roundtable discussion at Community House in Kings Beach, a fitting location since Placer County also donated $500,000 to ensure that critical needs services could be headquartered at this centrally-located shared office space.

The atmosphere was familial as grantees are intimately familiar with how one another work and were happy to partake in shared conversation. They described collaborative tactics to cultivate resiliency, develop deep personal and social connections, promote positive behaviors, and reduce stigma so people feel comfortable seeking help. Most community members who are at risk are identified through joint effort and communication. For kids, this is through the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) and partnering agencies including the counties, nonprofits, and law enforcement. The diverse mentoring programs serve youth who are at risk or suffering from symptoms to supplement additional mental health strategies and work with students’ schools, guardians, and other health care providers. Programs lower stigma and discrimination through increased education approaches that are sensitive to the culture that groups belongs to, whether that is ethnic, socio-economic, or age-based. Programs work from one-on-one counseling or mentorship to small groups to far-reaching community events that include a well-attended student-directed arts performance.

The State and County representatives were impressed with the on-the-ground approach that takes advantage of a region’s worth of knowledge and resources. Furthermore, our region represents one of the only examples of two counties working together to fund services with MHSA dollars because, in many cases, Nevada County has also contributed grant dollars to these same programs. As our visitors left, one State representative said,

“I get it now. It’s about the collective improvement, not every outcome is a number. It’s not just how many people you helped, it’s about what structures you put into place to protect everyone in a community.”

As a community foundation serving a rural region, we recognize the importance of viewing the whole ecosystem and leveraging our community’s strengths with the resources available. The work pf the organizations below is made possible through the collective vision and blended funding of county agencies, foundations like ours and SH Cowell, and private philanthropists like Rob Katz and Elana Amsterdam who prioritize mental health.

We’re grateful to our grantees who see their partnering agencies as allies and not competitors, and who tirelessly work to support our community members. This regional model, facilitated by CCTT, has been interweaving health and human services for over 30 years, and the longstanding partnerships have helped to tighten the net so fewer people and children fall through the cracks.

Prevention and Early Intervention Grantees

  • Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC): building relationships through outdoor programming and social relationships in one-on-one or small group meetings
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters: one-on-one youth mentorships
  • Boys and Girls Club: universal prevention and wellness afterschool programs
  • Family Resource Center of Truckee: North Tahoe Promotora Program (cooperatively managed with the North Tahoe Family Resource Center) which provides screening and referrals to the Spanish speaking communities
  • Gateway Mountain Center: one-on-one therapeutic youth mentoring program which provides 3-4 hour weekly sessions in the outdoors
  • Project MANA: homeless outreach coordination
  • Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition with TTUSD: “Know the Signs Campaign” to increase awareness and reduce stigma through events such as movie nights, presentations, speakers, and the arts performance “Giving Voice”