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Blair targets mental health

County to add five staff members to crisis, student assistance programs

Blair County will be adding five staffers to address mental health issues after the state approved two grants for the mobile crisis and student assistance programs.

Mental Health program Director Theresa Rudy told commissioners last week that approval has been granted for the county to add three positions for mobile crisis programs that provide on-scene help for individuals experiencing issues.

She said two new positions have been approved for student assistance programs in the schools.

Student assistance programs are offered in all of the local public school systems and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School, Rudy said.

The in-school services are provided for students with behavioral issues that impair their academics.

Student cases are referred to care teams who then make recommendations on how to provide services, Rudy stated.

The grants are coming from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, and Rudy said they are badly needed.

She said the mobile crisis program is pressed to meet the demand for its services.

Grants for mental health programs in Blair County have remained static for the past decade, but taking into consideration inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for additional funds, she said.

Rudy appeared before County Commissioners Bruce R. Erb, Amy E. Webster and Laura O. Burke last week to talk about the recent grants.

“We are excited. We are anxious to get started. It’s been a long process (getting additional funding),” she told the commissioners.

Rudy, who works in the county’s Social Services Department, said the approval letter for the grants was received Aug. 31.

Her appearance before the commissioners was apropos because just prior to her report another employee of the Social Services Department, Cindy James, presented a proclamation declaring September as Suicide Awareness Month.

The proclamation stated in Pennsylvania one person dies by suicide every four hours, making it the second leading cause of death in the state for people between ages 15 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death for those aged 35 to 54.

“Talking openly about stress and psychological health builds trust, reduces barriers to care and enables early intervention,” the proclamation stated.

Appearing with James was Mary Jo McConnell, of Altoona, who experienced suicide in her family and who now is part of an Early Intervention Task Force in Blair County that encourages people to learn about signs of stress and to direct loved ones for counseling if they show those signs.

James said she recently set up a table at an Altoona Curve game to hand out literature encouraging early intervention.

Not many people approached her table, but, she said, one woman who did was able to find help for a relative experiencing mental health-related issues.

McConnell thanked the commissioners for supporting the proclamation.

“This proclamation means everything to me,” she said.

Webster, in support of the proclamation, encouraged family and friends to seek help for those who are “not feeling well.”

Erb said a member of his family took his own life.

For him the tragedy of that event was a “life-changing experience.”

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