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Mental health priority for Dougherty Commission, state officials

Albany Herald - 6/21/2021

Jun. 21—ALBANY — Reaching out to young people early for intervention and prevention services was the No. 1 goal formulated by a local mental health advisory board, and that recommendation has been picked up by the state.

During a Monday report to the Dougherty County Commission, Gail Davenport outlined the priorities and strategies developed locally and by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

"We canvass the area and ask a wide variety of agencies and individuals," Davenport, one of the four local representatives of the Region 4 Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Disease Advisory Council, which includes 24 southwest Georgia counties, said during a telephone interview following the commission meeting. "The thing that came up repeatedly was helping our young people. The feeling I get from everybody was our young people need help early on."

The focus is not solely on mental health issues, but looking at teaching young people life skills that will help them be successful later in life. Those include critical thinking and anger management techniques.

"People say we need to address gun violence and gangs," Davenport said. "The problem is, by the time they get to a gang, it's too late. We need to back up and go back to when they're 7 or 6 or 5 years old."

In Dougherty County local volunteers will continue to partner with organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Salvation Army, faith-based groups, domestic violence programs and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The state agency also picked up that outreach effort to youth as its top priority, Davenport said.

The other two local priorities were communicating about services and treatment options available in the area and making access easier for individuals to receive in-person services.

Unlike Atlanta, where decisions are made based on funding, the Albany area is a rural one, based on agriculture, Davenport told commissioners.

"Housing (and) transportation are issues," she said. "English is not always the first language spoken in some of our communities."

In many instances, public safety and the court system are the drivers in identifying those who need help and steering them into programs, Commissioner Russell Gray said. Spreading the message about available programs through its social media sites is one way the county can help.

"The court system is often the first introduction many people have to the mental health system," he said. "When law enforcement is the first person to encounter a mentally ill person on the street, sometimes that is not the best."


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