Cleveland County YMCA adds mental health services starting in 2022


Faced with an ever-increasing need for accessible mental health care, the local Y is one of the few in the country tackling the problem by planning to add an on-site licensed therapist to its staff starting this year.

Cameron Corder, CEO of the YMCA of Cleveland County, said the therapist will rotate between the three branches — one in Kings Mountain, one in Boiling Springs and one in Shelby — and be a resource for everyone in the community.

Not only will this make care more accessible, Corder hopes it will remove some of the stigma associated with receiving mental health care.

“We are driven by the cause,” Corder said. “We try to meet the needs of the community.

Piper Barnes, director of annual giving and marketing, said the Y is committed to living its mission of caring for people – body, soul and spirit.

It is needed now, more than ever.

“COVID has exacerbated mental health issues,” Corder said.

According to a recent New York Times article, the US surgeon general warned that young people are facing a mental health crisis that has been made worse by the pandemic. In the United States, emergency room visits for attempted suicides increased by 51% for teenage girls in 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report by the country’s top doctor. The figure increased by 4% for boys.

Globally, symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled during the pandemic, the report notes. But mental health issues were already on the rise in the United States, with emergency room visits related to depression, anxiety and related conditions increasing by 28% from 2007 to 2018.

Corder said the numbers are “staggering” and should not be ignored.

He said there had been an increase in loneliness, especially among older people, and an increase in anxiety and depression, especially among teenage girls. The problem is compounded by a nationwide shortage of therapists.

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A mental health component at the YMCA has been a goal for Corder for the past 15 years and with the current crisis, has come to the fore. More than a decade ago, he promised to work on adding addiction counseling and therapy services to the Y after seeing several friends and family members struggle with these issues.

“We’ve been looking at this for a decade,” he said. “It’s very innovative.”

The plan is to have GWU master’s level students attend classes during YMCA internships as well as have a licensed therapist on site who will rotate between the three county branches.

Corder envisions a space where people can not only work on themselves physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Anyone in the community can access these services, which Corder hopes will include substance abuse counselling, treatment for depression or anxiety, bereavement counselling, trauma care, LIVEstrong therapy for cancer patients and treatment for those with an eating disorder and more.

He said they were hoping to have group and virtual sessions.

The goal is to have a therapist hired by Q1 2022 and then over the next 90 days to work on infrastructure, software and marketing.

The YMCA received a grant of $200,000 which will subsidize operations for the first three years.

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After those three years are up, the YMCA hopes it will be a standalone program.

Currently, only a handful of YMCAs offer a mental health component, and most of them are in large metropolitan areas that offer housing assistance and other services.

Physicians will refer patients to the program, and it will be available to YMCA members and non-members.

“There is definitely a growing need for mental health services, especially in the midst of COVID,” said Dr. Sharon Webb, program coordinator for Gardner-Webb University’s Mental Health Counseling Clinical Programs.

Webb also teaches and supervises practicum and clinical mental health counseling placements.

“Our trainee site supervisors have shared that they have to refer clients to other regions because they don’t have enough licensed advisors available,” she said.

According to data from the 2021 County Health Rankings, in Cleveland County, the ratio of people to mental health professionals is 730 to one.

Webb will meet with the prospective YMCA Licensed Counselor before GWU mental health interns begin working at the Y to ensure the needs of both parties are met.

Interns will see clients under the direct supervision of a licensed mental health clinical counselor onsite at the YMCA. They will also be under university supervision.

“Mental health and physical health influence each other, and even something as simple as unmanaged stress affects our physical health, just as physical health helps manage stress,” Webb said. “I am thrilled that GWU is joining the YMCA in serving the mental and physical health needs of our Cleveland County community.”

Dr Anna Hamrick, associate professor of nursing at GWU and associate director of the Hunt School of Nursing, said the need for access to mental health support has been growing in the county for several years.

“Demand has been more pronounced with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “In my work as a nurse practitioner, educator and community volunteer, I have seen the challenges individuals face in navigating the system.

Katie Varnadoe, regional director of community operations for Partners Health Management, said that because the YMCA serves a large number of people of all ages, having a therapist on site will help people make the connection that caring for Mental health is just as important as taking care of physical health.

“The YMCA is truly progressive in addressing whole person wellness and making behavioral health services available to its members,” she said. “People who would otherwise not know where to go for help will have access to an environment in which they already feel comfortable.”

Varnadoe said Partners is proud to work with community partners such as the YMCA.

“These partnerships help us fulfill our mission to improve lives and strengthen communities. The YMCA is helping to turn the tide in the delivery of behavioral health services and integrate the wellness of the whole person into the community,” she said.


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