Vermont’s Community-Based Mental Health Agencies Shoulder the Burden

On the front line of Vermont’s mental health care system, community-based agencies shoulder the burden of increasingly higher demand for services. Northwest Counseling & Support Services in St. Albans is a case in point. 

While Vermont’s legislature and public health leaders grapple with the big questions of how best to fix the overburdened and under-resourced mental healthcare system, it can be easy to lose sight of the human impact . The system is overburdened because people – especially kids – are suffering and need help. It’s under-resourced because there aren’t enough people to care for those who need help. 

The case workers, psychologists, and mental health counselors who are on the front line of that system are the ones shouldering the burden and struggling to keep up with the unprecedented need for mental health services and supports. A case in point is Northwest Counseling & Support Services (NCSS), one of the state’s community-based mental health agencies. NCSS serves Vermonters in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, in the extreme northwest of the state.

View from the Front Line 

In a recent installment of the monthly cable television series Here for You, NCSS’s Danielle Lindley, a licensed clinical social worker, described what it’s been like in the trenches of the mental health crisis in young people. As director of the Children, Youth & Family Services division at NCSS, Lindley oversees the agency’s effort to meet the region’s skyrocketing need for services.

“We have absolutely seen an increase in referrals,” Lindley said. “A lot of them are children and families that weren’t on our radar before, but because of the impact of Covid have been referred to our agency.” At the same time, she said, many of the services that were in place before Covid have been restricted, included peer-mentoring and respite programs. As a result, a lot of the usual supports are inaccessible. That means people have to go further away to get the help they need or go without. “[The pandemic] has put a real strain on our system.”

That pattern is repeated in every region, leading to long wait times for mental health services across the state. People who can’t access community care often end up in hospital emergency rooms, which are ill-equipped for the influx. The lack of availability of in-patient psychiatric treatment or residential programs means there is nowhere for hospitals to release people to. The bottleneck leaves people in dire need sitting in emergency departments waiting for an opening, sometimes for days.

Advice for Caregivers

Meanwhile, Lindley says, parents and caregivers are “overwhelmed and exhausted.” The ongoing stress and anxiety of coping with a child who is struggling “impacts people’s ability to engage,” which in turn “has a huge impact on the quality of services we can provide.”  More than ever, parents and caregivers need to carve out time to take care of their own mental health through self-care and meaningful connections. Unfortunately, she says, “those things get pushed to the wayside and they’re not prioritized.”

Join our parenting workshop with licensed clinical psychologist Cath Burns, Ph.D. Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. to learn parenting strategies that support mental health and well-being in children and youth. Register here.

Lindley’s advice for caregivers? “Sometimes you might take it one day at a time, sometimes you might take it one moment by moment. Just give yourself some grace and remember, this is a pandemic.” 

Learn More and Find Front-Line Resources

Watch the Here for You episode with Danielle Lindley, NCSS director of Child, Youth and Family Services. 

Access supports and services in your community through the Vermont Care Partners network of state-designated mental health agencies. 

Read Vermont’s Youth Mental Health Crisis: State Legislature Hears Testimony from Mental Health Experts to learn how state leaders are trying to fix a broken system.

Find a list of resources for parents and caregivers on the COVID Support VT website, Parenting Through COVID.

Join our 10-minute “Monday Meditation” on Facebook Live every Monday at 1 p.m., starting Jan. 10 (except Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 17). Follow COVID Support VT on Facebook and sign up for video notifications, or RSVP to the event here.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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