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AHS July Blog: Addressing the Need for Low-Cost Mental Health Services

The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension and human science. In the July blog post, YFCS Alumni Dawn M. Holmes, discusses how she shifted her career to focus on offering low-cost mental health services to individuals and families in need.

As I began my journey in the Youth, Family, and Community Science graduate program at NC State, I combined my previous clinical mental health counseling career with a focus on families and youth in my community. Upon graduation I was hired at one of the top marriage and family therapy private practice in the Charlotte, North Carolina. While working in this environment I built relationships with many diverse families in community and social service occupations. However, since the practice charged my clients $150 per session and a client lost their job or changed careers that had different insurance, they could no longer see me due to the cost of mental health and the contract I was under. After this happened several times, I realized that families, couples, and individuals need affordable mental health care. I gave my notice and set out on a new mission that served my community.

YFCS Alumni Dawn M. Holmes

Through YFCS 500 (now AEHS 510) Supervised Professional Experience in Family Life and Youth Development, I completed an internship at Steele Creek Athletic Association (SCAA) that services around 500 families. Through this experience it was clear that our community needed counseling and coaching options in youth athletics that were affordable. The idea came to me in a recurring dream. I literally dreamt it and then created a proposal. I thought if part of the reason why counseling is expensive is because the cost of space, I could literally use a building that was not being used during the day, while splitting the proceeds to go back into the athletic association. The dream of starting a community counseling and coaching center was born.

The families that attend the center seek family guidance that I can provide as a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE). Their family often seeks counseling for anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, and mostly communication amongst family members. One of my critical cases struggled with suicide and self-harm. We needed to put this client in a safe environment in an emergency situation. This client remained in crisis while in the emergency room that was not equipped for the mental health care they needed at the time. This was mainly because there were no psychiatric beds for adolescents in the area. This happened several times and each time this client was passed along from facility to facility, program to program, provider to provider, while the family spent over $7,000 for care over four months. The mother told me I was the only one that never gave up on her family and we are still working together today. I think about this family that has the means to afford treatment but what about families that do not? I grew up lower income with a single mother that worked 2 and 3 jobs to afford to raise my brother and me. My mother would have never been able to afford that type of care for one of us. This story is not uncommon in mental health. Last summer a loved one also suffered from a mental health crisis and remained in the emergency room hallway for 72 hours. Without a psychiatric facility bed in sight this relative was discharged with medication. The positive aspect to this story is I assisted in their care to get the counseling they needed with a psychologist, and they are doing so much better.

The most common feedback I hear from family, friends, and clients is how mental health care is unaffordable. Families literally come into the counseling center in tears and hug me thanking me for opening a center that is affordable and trustworthy. There are so many families ready to give up due to their frustration with the system and costs of care. It doesn’t have to be that way. While as counselors, social workers, teachers, and family educators, we know these jobs are done with passion not for pay. We love what we do which is why we are often burnout or struggling to provide resources rather than financial gain.

The message I want to leave the readers with is in our careers we solve problems. I was able to solve the affordable therapy problem in my community by partnering with a non-profit organization with a facility that was not utilizing their space during the day. The space was already paid for and could benefit so many families which is why SCAA unanimously voted to approve my proposal. I charge $45 per 45-minute session and $10 goes back into the athletic association for the youth. I share my story in hopes that other spaces such as athletic associations, churches, or other non profit buildings that are not being used could serve a double purpose that serves our communities for the better.

Let’s “Think and Do” together! The NC State way. Go Wolfpack!