TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Mental health professionals are needed nationwide, especially in the Hoosier State. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, Indiana ranks 27th in the country in the number of professionals in the mental health field. Unfortunately, that reality is present right here in the Wabash Valley as well.
Emily Owens is the Executive Director of Clinical Services at the Hamilton Center. She says one in five people suffer from some form of a mental health issue, so there's a need for trained workers. The Hamilton Center identified seven counties it serves as mental health professional shortage areas.
Owens says that rural areas in our region are really suffering. The shortage counties were Greene, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, and Hendricks. She says the turnover of the industry and the rate of pay have a lot to do with driving people away. The workforce for mental health professionals is aging and retiring, so filling the employment gap is more difficult.
Owens thinks students out there interested in the profession don't really know what it would be like. This causes them to think it's something that isn't for them. Owens says it's important to fix this problem now so the people locally can get the mental health assistance they need.
"If you don't have enough of the professionals in the area then those that really need the services are not helped," Owens explained, "We are able to provide the services that they need so they are able to improve the quality of their life. That's what's rewarding about the profession."
Hamilton Center representatives talked about what they're doing to fix this problem and usher in the next wave of professionals in their industry.
Susannah Ferguson is a second-year master's program student studying mental health counseling. She's getting valuable, real-world experience as part of the Hamilton Center's internship program.
"I genuinely believe that the internship program here is invaluable experience for my future in the workforce," Ferguson said, "I would recommend it to any intern looking for placement."
Ferguson is the beneficiary of a grant secured by the Hamilton Center from the Division of Mental Health and Addiction. Starting last August, the center now offers stipends to up to five interns per semester. Ferguson works in both Vigo and Vermillion County with children and adults.
"I may not have been able to complete graduate school without the stipend," she said, "It's also really fueled my interest in rural addictions and I did not know that I even had such a heart there."
Owens talked about the partnerships the Hamilton Center has with colleges across the country. This concerted effort is to boost interest in the mental health industry, specifically in rural areas around the Wabash Valley.
"Our whole focus here at the Hamilton Center is to ensure that the interns we have get the experience they need and that they want to stay in the field when they're finished here," Owens explained, "And hopefully stay with the Hamilton Center!"
You can see change and growth in your clients," Ferguson concluded, "I love that. That's what makes me really motivated to keep going."
The Hamilton Center has 63 interns they're currently housing including 47 new ones for the Spring. For more information on how to get involved with the program, visit www.hamiltoncenter.org.