By Kristen Hayes, CEI Intern and Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support
The New England area has some of the most innovative medical schools, mental health programs, and research universities in the country. In addition to the urban centers where research, education, and health care are thriving, there are large rural areas that are often underserved in the mental health field. The New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (New England MHTTC) hopes to alleviate some of the pain New England communities feel when mental health issues affect individuals, families, and communities by connecting people with the resources they need to support positive mental health in their cities and towns.
The New England MHTTC includes six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Their mission is “Using evidence-based means to disseminate evidence-based practices” (New England MHTTC, 2017). Focusing efforts towards providing evidence-based mental health resources in poorer and rural communities and for marginalized groups such as minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and persons with disabilities, the New England MHTTC was created to promote the national MHTTC goals of resilience and recovery for children, teens, and adults struggling with mental illness and addiction.
Intervening When Trauma Occurs
One in four children are exposed to trauma before age 4, and six in ten before age 18 (MHTTC Network Central Office, 2019). Living in poverty and unsafe neighborhoods can deepen the effects of traumatic experiences. The effects of trauma help us underscore the need for trauma-informed and trained caregivers.
Significant trauma can:
impede normal development
present cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and educational difficulties
be associated with violence, risk-taking, and self-destructive behaviors
be a frequent precursor to mental health issues and/or drug and alcohol abuse.
Schools, where children spend so much of their time, provide an excellent environment to support these children through trauma-informed interventions to ameliorate negative effects. The New England MHTTC hopes to realize this goal by increasing the number of nurturing adults and teachers equipped to meet the needs of children with mental health challenges. They recognize that there is no cookie-cutter treatment meant for every child who has experienced a trauma, so they seek to share a variety of resources with professionals, so they can treat each student as an individual.
Empowering Individuals with Personalized Care
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created Addiction Technology Transfer Centers and found that providing addiction recovery resources, both online and in-person for targeted communities, engage the diverse communities in a region and across the nation in a conversation that helps disseminate evidence-based practices amongst recovery professionals. Now, they are replicating that model with the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network to disseminate information about mental health.
Dr. Larry Davidson, a professor of psychiatry who founded Yale’s Program for Recovery and Community Health, is the New England MHTTC’s Project Director. Dr. Davidson’s plan for this five-year project stresses treatment, rehabilitation, person-centered recovery planning, and addressing health disparities as primary goals with a focus on suicide prevention and mental health awareness and literacy.
The New England MHTTC favors a holistic and personalized approach, promoting the development of self-acceptance, belief in oneself, and belief in one’s ability to make positive and meaningful contributions to their families and communities. The ideal level of autonomy and independence is chosen by each individual. Personalized “care plans” build on the knowledge and skills of invested friends and family as well as the community. Individuals in recovery, in addition to practicing self-care, can also find strength in the social responsibility to share their experiences with their peers.
Bringing Needed Support to New England
We spoke with Maria Restrepo-Toro, Project Manager of the New England MHTTC, about their plans to disseminate mental health support throughout the region. New England’s composition of urban centers and large rural areas with a wide variety of socio-economic statuses and cultural backgrounds makes this a challenging task. Restrepo-Toro explained that after doing a needs assessment for this complex region, they realized that their area of focus should be increasing the mental health workforce by educating community members about recovery-oriented care. “The mental health workforce is underpaid, overworked, and very often lacking crucial training. Because of this, there is high turnover in the mental health field, so we want to focus on workforce development,” Ms. Restrepo-Toro emphasized.
She also highlighted the importance of having cultural linguistic competence when working with the diverse population of New England. Because their first goal is to ensure inclusion within the mental health field, they are working diligently to engage all of the different communities in the region. For example, they are developing a learning collaborative which aims to bring culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health information to the Latino community.
In collaboration with CEI, the New England MHTTC organized the Childhood Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC) to share our expertise on using mindfulness to treat childhood trauma with school leaders who are facing an increased student and staff population touched by trauma. We have recruited 24 educators from New England states to develop a repository of webinars and resources on school-based mental health and invite schools from each of the six states to take part in the School Compassionate Culture Analytic Tool for Educators (S-CCATE). Learn more about our work with the C-TLC in our article in this month’s newsletter, “Bringing Trauma Responsive Practices to New England,” and stay posted for updates from our Kick Off event with the C-TLC Fellows in the June newsletter!
New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (New England MHTTC). (n.d.). Home page.
New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (New England MHTTC). (2017). Regional center for New England proposal. Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) Network Central Office. (2019, March 21). Guiding principles. PowerPoint presentation.