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Grant to assist with behavioral health for children

Aerial view of ISU Quad

Illinois State University received a grant of nearly $100,000 to continue the work of connecting rural patients with integrated behavioral health services.

The $99,990 award comes from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation (ILCHF), and was secured by Brenda Huber, director of the Psychological Services Center at Illinois State University. The grant is part of the ongoing support for work with the Illinois School Psychology Consortium. A joint project of Illinois State, Loyola University, Northern Illinois University, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the consortium provides doctoral students with internships in the field.

The new grant allows the consortium to expand the scope of internships toward more rural areas, with the aim of making behavioral health part of an integrated medical team. “Integrated health means having someone with behavioral health training who can consult with doctors and nurses to help provide a better quality of life for the patient,” said Huber.

With funding from the grant, positions will be available for doctoral-level psychology students to work in rural schools and primary care practices in Illinois, including around DeWitt, McLean, and Livingston counties. “Currently in rural areas, schools are taking on a large piece of dealing with mental health issues for children. This initiative would help bring someone with training in mental health to give a bigger picture,” said Huber, who noted children with chronic health problems are five times more likely to have learning needs. “The goal of this initiative is to identify difficulties early and address them.”

The professionals in the field will perform assessments similar to mental-health triage. “We use brief interventions with those who have diagnosable mental health conditions, and then refer them on for traditional support,” said Huber. The consultants would be called into cases where doctors and nurses see a need. “When there are multiple stressors—such as depression linked to financial problems or losing a loved one—we just want to figure out how to stabilize the situation and help people make a step toward a healthier life.”

She noted the input of consultants can also be integrated into cases when there is a need for health behavior change, or a great deal of stress. “For someone who has just been diagnosed with diabetes, that means a great deal of lifestyle and dietary change that can be very stressful. Or when an athlete suffers an injury, depression, or anxiety can be as much of a challenge as the physical injury itself.”

Along with providing more interns in rural areas, Huber hopes to expand the mental health knowledge of other professionals with workshops held at Illinois State. “This will be a continuing education opportunity for those working with patients in the field, as well as graduate students in areas such as nursing, social work, and psychology.” Huber hopes to see the first course available next summer.

This additional ILCHF support brings funding for Illinois State and rural community partners committed to children’s mental health up to more than $2.5 million. Huber said the more young professionals who take an active role in rural mental health care, the more change we will see. “Right now there is a huge hole in rural areas where mental health providers are concerned,” she said. “My hope is to get these students there, and they will fall in love with rural health. I think we can turn the tide in rural health care.”