Valley News – Jim Kenyon: On mental health, Dartmouth College says ‘no thanks for the help’


Before its 24/7 mobile crisis response team hit the road in January, West Central Behavioral Health reached out to schools, police departments and hospitals to let them know about the only service available on the New Hampshire side. High Valley.

Seen as a much-needed new tool in the suicide prevention toolbox, West Central’s commitment to do more work on the ground was welcomed by government and community agencies.

With one exception: Dartmouth College.

The university’s response “fell short, in our minds,” West Central CEO Roger Osmun said when we spoke Wednesday.

Last summer, Doug Williamson, a retired Alice Peck Day pediatrician who chairs West Central’s board of directors, contacted Heather Earle, director of Dartmouth’s counseling center.

Earle was “very excited, but once she started moving up the management ladder, she didn’t go anywhere,” Williamson, a 1985 Dartmouth graduate, told me Thursday.

“I have a feeling that Dartmouth is worried about losing control,” he added. “They are trying to do everything themselves.”

In light of the recent tragedies on and off campus, Dartmouth’s stance that we’ve got this covered is perplexing.

Following the announcement of the deaths of two students in late September, 500 members of the Dartmouth community gathered outside the library as university leaders discussed, among other things, efforts to improve mental health services. “One size will never fit all,” said Scott Brown, Dartmouth’s interim dean.

The Dartmouth Counseling Center offers 24-hour crisis mental health services. The center’s website features a long list of phone numbers for national helplines and emergency services in the Upper Valley, including Hanover Police and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center ER.

But there’s no mention of West Central’s mobile crisis response team or New Hampshire’s 24/7 rapid response crisis line, which also launched in January.

I’d like to think that the omissions have something to do with the services being new.

In a state not known for its heavy spending on social services, New Hampshire officials approved $52.4 million in contracts with the state’s 10 mental health centers last year. West Central, which covers southern Grafton and Sullivan counties, saw its state allocation jump from $1.4 million to $3 million. He also raised private money to support the crisis team.

New Hampshire’s new 24/7 mental health call center is linked to the state’s expanded network of mobile crisis teams. A trained staff takes calls from people experiencing mental health crises, or anyone contacting on their behalf.

After assessing the caller’s needs, mental health workers decide whether to send a crisis response team. (West Central’s seven-member team includes mental health physicians with master’s degrees.)

“You don’t need insurance. You won’t get a bill,” said Osmun, a psychologist who was named CEO of West Central in 2019 after working for 22 years at a nonprofit behavioral health organization serving suburban Philadelphia.

West Central adopted what Osmun calls the firehouse model: “We have people up and working at two in the morning.”

Two-person teams drive unmarked vehicles and dress casually to greet callers at their homes, on street corners, in parking lots, or wherever people prefer. “Ideally, we should be able to keep 99% of people safe and in the community,” Osmun said.

On Thursday, Dartmouth announced it would partner with Uwill, a provider of teletherapy for students, to provide free access to mental health services via phone, video and chat beginning Nov. 1. “It comes in the midst of an intensifying mental health crisis around the world.” nation and as the campus mourns the loss of several members of the community,” a university news release said.

Which brings me back to West Central. The Lebanon-based nonprofit, which has provided outpatient mental health services since 1977, can offer something Dartmouth can’t.

Some students may not feel comfortable seeking mental health help from the institution that, in many ways, controls their lives and futures. If they seek counseling, is that part of their college records? Who at Dartmouth potentially has access to that information?

“Those things shouldn’t be barriers” for students seeking help, Osmun said.

According to the counseling center’s website, it abides by a “confidentiality policy that respects privacy and promotes better medical care.”

However, the advice center goes on to say that “if we believe you are in imminent danger of serious self-harm, we may contact other providers, university administrators or Safety and Security, other public safety departments, or your family.”

For that reason, some students may not want to “go through the Dartmouth system,” Williamson said.

West Central does not give up. Williamson recently contacted an administrator in the student life office. He has also visited his old fraternity of which he is an advisor.

The university “is moving in the right direction, but it could be doing more,” Williamson said.

In response to questions she had about Dartmouth not accepting offers of help from West Central, university spokeswoman Diana Lawrence emailed Friday: “We have been investigating mobile crisis services provided by West Central “.

Dartmouth recently declared October 21 a “care day.” Classes will be suspended to allow time to “grieve, learn and comfort one another.”

At a minimum, Dartmouth should invite West Central to campus that day to share their information.

The goal, Williamson said, is to give students “as many resources as possible.”

The New Hampshire Rapid Response Crisis Line can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting 833-710-6477. To chat online, go to


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