Delaware forums look for answers to addiction, mental health problems

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long (left) and Mary Kane hold up a pair of signs showing several issues that were discussed during Wednesday’s mental health and addiction community forum at Central Middle School. (Submitted photos)

DOVER — Mental health and addiction are two issues that often go hand in hand.

That’s why Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and the Behavioral Health Consortium are hosting four community forums this month that focus on both problems that have become huge issues in Delaware.

They made stop No. 2 of their three-county, four-city statewide tour at Central Middle School in Dover on a rainy Wednesday night, drawing around 100 interested participants.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long addressed the crowd briefly before it was broken up into working groups.

“Governor (John) Carney recognizes how important mental illness is, how important addiction is and he knows it’s our No. 1 public health epidemic,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, chairwoman of the Behavioral Health Consortium, “So we don’t want to just do actions every week and talking the talk. We’re going to walk the walk.

“We’re going to look at the problem and really try to get together and find a solution. It starts with you and in our community, at our dinner tables, at our schools, with our first responders and all of the people who have been impacted.”

Many individuals and their families and loved ones have been impacted in Delaware, considering that through Dec. 13 last year, the total number of deaths from suspected overdoses in the state was 227.

In 2016, 308 people died in Delaware from overdoses, up 35 percent from the 228 people who died in 2015.

Richard Barnette, from Dover, said he could have ended up as one of those statistics, but somehow managed to turn his life around. He now works at

Community members take part in a discussion at last Wednesday night’s mental health and addiction community forum at Central Middle School.

Connections, an outpatient medical and mental health clinic in Dover.

He attended Wednesday’s forum to provide his own personal insight into mental health and how it relates to addiction.

“I had been struggling for a long time with drug addiction — 47 years,” Mr. Barnette said. “Three years ago I decided to get clean and I have not relapsed or anything in those three years. This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life.

“I hope everything picks up and keeps going forward because there are a lot of people out there who need help, not only with the addiction part of it but with the mental health, too.”

There were no presentations or keynote speakers at the forum at Central Middle. Rather, the participants broke off into eight groups of 10 to discuss two questions provided by Mary Kane, president of Concept Systems in Ithaca, New York.

Question No. 1 posed by Ms. Kane was “When you think about mental health and addiction, behavioral health that is and the behaviors that affect your health, what are the things that you know or see and experience in your community? What’s going on?”

The second questions she asked was “What’s the No. 1 thing we in Delaware can do to deal with mental health and to deal with the issues you will have just talked to each other about?”

Several concerns were voiced by the various groups and they will eventually be pulled together, along with the other forums, to create an action plan for mental illness and addiction.

Some of the biggest challenges facing those suffering from mental illness and addiction are:

• Lack of services in many cities and towns, particularly in Sussex County

• Not enough employees in the mental health field

• Lack of funding for treatment

• Transportation can pose a challenge for many families seeking help

• Long waiting list to see counselors

• Developing coping skills for people when they leave rehabilitation and treatment and return to their old previous environment

Michele Marinucci, director of student services for the Woodbridge School District, oversaw one of the group discussions at Central Middle.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long addresses the crowd gathered at the mental health and addiction community forum at Central Middle School Wednesday.

She said she enjoys participating in the community forums because it provides for a wide array of ideas.

“I became involved in the behavioral health work through the school district and seeing the needs that were discussed earlier and the massive amounts of needs at such an early age with our students,” Ms. Marinucci said. “There is a definite lack of services available.

“I’ve been working across the state to bring awareness and bring the support and bring the services and think of innovative and creative ways to do it where it doesn’t take a lot of money.”

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said she was thankful that so many community members, including local dignitaries such as Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen, City Councilman Matt Lindell, Rep. Trey Paradee and others, attended Wednesday’s forum to gain some insight into the problems.

“This is a statewide problem,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “My heart is touched because at the end of the day it is about you and your stories. It really is about many of you who lost your children, who lost your parents.

“We don’t want anyone to have that experience. We want to make sure we honor the memories of those who passed on despite this good fight and many others and we’re going to make sure their memories live on.”

Ms. Kane left Wednesday night’s forum pleased with the information the Behavioral Health Consortium was able to glean from the two-and-a-half-hour discussion.

The last of the four mental health and addiction community forums will take place Thursday in Georgetown from 6 until 8:30 p.m. at the Public Library at 123 W. Pine St.

Forums have also taken place in Wilmington and Delaware City.

“The way Delaware approaches things is really unique,” Ms. Kane said. “You might not realize it, but you really are an unusual and remarkable community of folks in this state.

“The way that you pull together to think about, talk about and ask on issues that are causing people to be sick and die sooner than they should is really, really remarkable.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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