Senator Luján, Secretary of HHS Becerra briefed on Community Health Services

LAS CRUCES ‒ Local and state officials and health care providers gave a public briefing to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra Wednesday morning on the state of behavioral health services in New Mexico, how centers school health programs have helped fill the gaps and why continued federal support for the initiatives is needed.

Becerra, a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, attended the 90-minute briefing at Arrowhead Park Early College High School, located next to the New Mexico State University campus, with U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján, DN..M., who was visit the region this week while Congress is in recess.

New Mexico high school kids lead the nation in feelings of sadness or hopelessness, suicide attempts, heroin use and alcohol use by age 13, according to 2019 data Youth Risk and Resilience Surveywhich notably predates the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of illness, death, and economic and social disruption from the period of emergency closure of public spaces to the present day.

Amy Himelright, mental health and school counseling coordinator at Las Cruces Public Schools, said there are clear indications that these conditions have since worsened, with high rates of students reporting emotional health issues. , high anxiety and suicidal tendencies.

She said federal funding, including COVID-19 relief money, was used to contract with providers and hire additional social workers in the state’s second-largest school district, as well as to train staff to assess needs and refer students to services as needed.

Crisis helpline 988

Two tools highlighted in the briefing were New Mexico’s new 988 crisis hotline for emotional or mental crises, including substance abuse, which debuted in July and; and the establishment of a school health care centre.

Gayle Porter, licensed clinical supervisor for the 988 service, said the call volume for the new service and the decade-old New Mexico Access and Crisis Line was heavy.

“We’re there 24/7/365 when the crisis hits,” she said in reference to the service’s round-the-clock response, “often the end of the night when distractions aren’t there, responsibilities aren’t We get calls from people at Christmas when family is their triggering event We are happy to be able to support people when they are in this time.

The 988 service for mental wellbeing can be accessed by dialing 988 or visiting It is a resource for people who are worried about another person or who are themselves worried or in crisis about substance abuse, emotional distress or who need a referral to community services.

The service offers alternatives for anyone who feels uncomfortable talking to someone directly over the phone. Text messaging is available by texting “TALK” to 988, and online chat service is available through

Presenters said school health centers help fill gaps in available services in a state with insufficient health care providers (including mental health), some not accepting Medicaid, and many residents must travel an hour or more for services, exacerbating inequalities for low-income residents.

High School Services

Representatives of La Clinica de Familia described the medical and behavioral health services it provides at six county high schools within the LCPS and Gadsden Independent School District south of Las Cruces. Clinics provide safe environments for young people to access certain acute and other medical care, behavioral health services, vaccinations, tests and referrals to other services directly at school.

The main entrance to Arrowhead Park Early College High School is seen at its campus in Las Cruces, NM, Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Presenters also discussed collaborations between SPC and a network of organizations to make services available. Rose Ann Vasquez of Families and Youth Inc. said, “We may not have an abundance of behavioral health resources here in the county, but I want you to know that we have an abundance of commitment to ourselves. partner to fill gaps and needs. for our children and students.

A current high school student who is an underage and her tutor shared personal experiences of navigating emotional health services during her first year and the challenges of helping peers who need help.

Las Cruces Councilwoman Kasandra Gandara, a licensed social worker, then discussed collaborations through Doña Ana County Resilience Leaders, a project created in 2018 aimed at connecting county residents to essential services, overcoming financial and other barriers, and advocating for affordable housing.

In response to a question from the invited audience, the senator pledged to encourage more support for programs that give children access to outdoor activities as a foundation for health.

Luján and Becerra spoke little during the event beyond introductions, but both men said long-standing stigmas about mental well-being and seeking care over “stamina” needed to change.

In his own working-class family, Becerra recalled, “mental health was never something we thought about. You just move on,” adding that there were financial risks and barriers to seeking care even if it were available.

“It’s okay not to feel well,” Luján said, adding, “It’s okay to say you’re not feeling well, you need to go talk to someone… We’re all going to do better thanks to that.”

Referring to his recovery from a stroke he suffered Earlier this year, the senator said he learned “if you don’t feel well, you don’t try to sleep. You have to go see professionals and experts.”

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, Where @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.

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