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In recent years, health professionals, including the U.S. surgeon general, have begun working to curb the nation’s levels of mental health crises. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, in 2021, 22.8% of all U.S. adults had a mental health illness. In the same year, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association jointly issued a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.

The town of Ludlow has decided to address the issue of mental health with two initiatives that pool the resources of the public and private health professionals, educators and emergency services.

A 2023 needs assessment by Health Director Paulina Matusik found the top three categories for emergency services calls were mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence, which Matusik acknowledged has ties to the other two issues. Many people repeatedly called for help, meaning their needs were not being addressed long-term.

“The town has never really had a focus on mental health before,” Matusik said. “[The Health Department] wanted to collaborate with other town departments to pool our resources.”

In a press release, she said, “This collaborative model ensures that individuals facing a crisis are connected to a seamless support system without the burden of navigating complex healthcare networks.” She told Reminder Publishing, “Most people don’t know where to start. People obviously call [emergency services] at their worst moments. Following up with them lets them know what resources are available.”

In September 2023, Ludlow launched the Ludlow Community Intervention Team, consisting of representatives from the Ludlow Police, Fire and Health departments, as well as the Center for Human Development, an organization that provides community-oriented services to promote, enhance and protect the people’s dignity and welfare. The team meets weekly to collaboratively review emergency calls. A social worker will then follow up with those people from the call who likely need more mental health services. Matusik said the social worker will ask if they have a therapist or counselor and help connect them with resources.

So far, Matusik said, the team has seemed to make a “significant impact.” Since January, the program has led to interactions with 140 members of the community, dealing with issues ranging from self-harm and general behavioral health to substance misuse and overdoses, and the team has noticed a decrease in repeat calls.

“People have been very open,” Matusik said. “[Social workers] give people options and they have the choice with how to proceed. It gives them all the power.”

Because there are also high levels of mental health issues among school-aged youth, the Ludlow Behavioral Health Assessment Team was formed in December 2023. This team, which meets monthly, focuses on Ludlow schools and includes the School Department’s case manager, the Police Department’s school resource officer and a Health Department social worker specializing in behavioral health.

Town Administrator Marc Strange said in a press release, “By addressing behavioral health needs effectively, we not only enhance the quality of life for our residents but also realize cost savings by reducing the need for repeated interventions. It’s about providing the right help at the right time.” Matusik said collaboration has been the key to making these programs work, especially with the Police and Fire departments.

People do not have to call emergency services to receive help from the Ludlow Community Intervention Team or the Ludlow Behavioral Health Assessment Team, Matusik said. She encouraged people in need to contact the Health Department at 413-583-5600.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or contact the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Help Line at 833-773-2445 or masshelpline.com.

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