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Behavioral health forum focuses on community solutions (subscriber content)

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Renown’s Kindle Craig spoke last week at the behavioral health forum. Image: Tabitha Mueller.

By Tabitha Mueller

More than 100 community members, mental health professionals and government officials gathered last week at the Washoe County Commission chambers for a behavioral health round-table forum. The event was hosted by Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities’ Behavioral Health Council (TMHC), Washoe County Health District and Renown Health. 

The hosts designed the forum titled, “More Powerful Together,” to inform the public about Reno’s behavioral health crisis, provide information about how community leaders and organizations are addressing it, as well as how individuals can become involved.

The forum featured talks by Nevada Senator Julia Ratti, Washoe School District’s Kristen McNeill, District Health Officer Kevin Dick, Renown’s Kindle Craig, Sheriff Darin Balaam, Northern Nevada HOPES’ Dr. Kristen Davis-Coelho, and Washoe County Human Services Director Amber Howell. 

Senator Ratti gave the introductory remarks, updating the crowd on legislative outcomes from 2019 and detailing how behavioral health issues are not isolated. 

“Housing and healthcare go hand in hand,” she said. “We know that if we can’t stabilize a person’s housing, it affects their health, education, it affects everything else.”

McNeil discussed behavioral health issues in schools and how the district is increasing consistency in disciplinary practices. She also pointed out that, “students are bringing more than books in their backpacks,” and emphasized how the district is working with counselors to address the root of the behavioral problems, such as homelessness, rather than treat behavioral issues as disconnected incidences.

Dick, one of the forum’s organizers, noted how each speaker touched upon the interconnectedness of behavioral health issues with the housing crisis. 

“A recurring theme that we had today was the important linkage between addressing behavioral health issues and the need for affordable housing in the community,” he said.

An overarching goal for the forums is community awareness. 

Sharon Zadra, executive director of TMHC, said that she plans to hold at least two more community-oriented discussions focused on behavioral health each year. 

“You know where there are greater needs, where more resources need to be developed and usually that starts with making more people informed, getting more people involved,” she explained.

Along with community awareness, Zadra said she hopes to encourage more collaboration between behavioral health and community-building organizations. 

“Oftentimes, we just get so focused on our job description and our mission at our specific place of employment and the metrics that we have to meet,” she added. “But when you take a look at the bigger picture and recognize ‘ah!’ there’s a shared need. We’re doing similar work; is there a more efficient way we can work together?’ 

“We can achieve more by working together. That’s a big part of it — everyone understanding what the other one is doing and how we can grow the efficiency.” 

Balaam exemplified the mission to bring community partners together when he told the audience, “Many of you we have partnerships with. Our doors are open. I encourage you to come up and find out more about what we’re doing in our facility and how if you represent a service provider or a non-profit, how you can work for us.”

Although the event was pitched as a conversation, the speakers ran over time, so there was not much room for audience input. 

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