Mental Health, Mental Illness, on Block Island

advocating for services and support for those who are ill and education for mental health to all on Block Island

Our current need on Block Island


This letter below has been sent to Block Island Times and the Block Island Bulletin Board, to summarize our activities. More detail is available here, and if you are interested in what we do, please inquire from any Board Member, come to a meeting, and offer your skills to the Board.

December 2018

Dear Block Island Neighbors,

NAMI BI is a non-profit organization working to reduce the effects of mental illness on Block Island. We aim to facilitate access to mental health care, support families affected by mental illness and enable community understanding. Mental illness takes many forms, is prevalent, may be complex and overlap with other needs; so we also promote well-being and health. 2018 has brought developments in NAMI BI activity with very positive outcomes.

First, NAMI BI continues to manage the psychiatric telemedicine program for adults located at Block Island Health Services and to communicate information about the three therapists who have office hours on the island. Our advocacy has brought sought-after developments in services for children and families. A clinical psychologist offering child and family therapy and consultation now visits the island, and a pilot telepsychiatry service for children is planned to launch early in 2019. When available we will inform the community about it, and about how to access it. NAMI BI fosters both the new children’s services and the adult services currently facilitated by Tracy Fredericks, the Case Manager. She is contracted to NAMI BI who pays for her hours through your contributions and a grant from the Town of New Shoreham. Following the launch of the new needed services, we expect these costs to increase.

Second, Block Island Wellness, a “sister” organization supported by state substance abuse prevention funding, has been subjected to strategic changes from RI State Prevention Planning and is now part of the regional South County Prevention Coalition. Recognizing the commonality and overlap with part of mental health aims, NAMI BI has invited the BI Wellness team to combine with NAMI BI to help preserve their specific local knowledge and activity, as well as enabling us to engage with South County Prevention when appropriate. This has been a fruitful follow-up to our Spring 2017 Mental Health Conference that focused on opioids. Further feedback emphasized stresses, isolation and anxieties on the island, and led to the 2018 Spring Conference topic: “Depression, a Community Conversation, What can we do?” The May 2018 conference was well-received by about 30 people attending. In June another twenty residents attended an event on suicide prevention. During July and August we held a series of TED talk programs and discussion group meetings on various aspects of Mental Health and Illness. All these events were well attended by both residents and visitors.  The Family Support Group has also continued to meet regularly each month, and has been a real benefit to all participants. Plans are well under way for the Spring Conference 2019, which will be held on Friday evening 17 May and Saturday 18 May, title “Children and Teens: Won’t They just Grow out of it?” Keep the Date.

The third change this year has been internal, as we said goodbye to Steve Hollaway, the founding president of NAMI BI. In August his place was taken by Jim Hinthorn. We are thankful for the work Steve has done, and are confident that with Jim as leader NAMI BI continues to fulfill its mission.

As you can see, 2018 has been quite a year for NAMI BI and its work in the BI community. We look forward to 2019 as the long hoped for and now developing resources for children and families become a reality. This and our ongoing work need your support and are so worthwhile. We thank you for your past contributions, and in advance for your continued financial support.

Yours sincerely,          

Members, NAMI BI Board,

President: Jim Hinthorn, Vice-President: Kristin Baumann, Treasurer: Pat Tengwall, Secretary: Elspeth Crawford, Members: Beth Gaffett Tengwall, Gloria Redlich, Socha Cohen, Jill Seppa, Kyra Ernst, Sue Hagedorn, Tracy Fredericks (case manager)

[Donations to NAMI Block Island, PO Box 1719, Employer ID Number B3-2915592]

This page was first written in 2015, and although there has been progress, our ongoing needs remain much the same. The only regular psychiatric mental health service available on Block Island is that offered by telemedicine from Butler Hospital and enabled by NAMI BI, although we hope the service for children and families [from Bradley Hospital] will soon launch. Emergency or more sporadic need to individuals who have not previously sought regular appointments are possible, depending on the point of access. This can come through the Block Island Medical Center (BIHS) or the Police Department as well as through the NAMI BI Case manager, and can involve anything from advice or support to necessary escort off the island. Visiting counselors can be available by negotiation – see services.

The island context also means there is variation in need depending on the time of year. The winter population of permanent residents is less than 1000 people. During the summer season, May – October, the need for services applies to island seasonal workers, as well as summer residents who return regularly each year. There are also visitors/tourists who might need a more temporary engagement with the program. Summer population estimate is about 10,000 people.

Mental illness suffers so much from silence and stigma, that many people do not realize how many individuals suffer and their families and friends absorb consequences. They keep quiet. Given Rhode Island statistics* and the number of people in the local population, as the services become better known, it would seem that the number of individuals using the service will continue to increase as they have done each year they have been offered. At one time in 2014, there was a waiting time of four weeks for a client needing a first appointment. Now, in 2016, the current operating process for all activities is only funded for the limited number of hours used by the Case Manager in organizing the once weekly telemedicine appointments. The hours for which the manager, Tracy Fredericks, is employed are being used to the maximum, and indeed beyond as she responds willingly to emergency, to enabling the finding of counseling help, and other issues that take more of her time. Extra time is not funded.

Educational meetings mostly take place during the summer season when it is hoped that a wider audience can be reached. The summer programs presented have been made possible by the generosity of the speakers who have given their time freely, and by the venue (Island Free Library) also free. Members of the NAMI BI Board give their time to organize the presentations. In the past, some possible speakers have had to refuse as travel and residence costs on the island could not be borne by either speaker or NAMI BI.

NAMI BI needs are threefold:

First the obvious one for any non-profit, we need donations in order to keep going. As described in more detail below, we want to offer more services and expand programs, both of which are indeed required. Any gift you make helps us continue to provide psychiatric services and support on Block Island. Donate to NAMI Block Island, PO Box 1719, BI RI 02807. All gifts are fully tax deductible.

New Shoreham Town Council has added a line item in Community Support in the FY 2017/8 budget. This supports about half of the Case Manager salary (at the moment $15,000 is required). We are very grateful to all those who have helped bring about this addition to Block Island community need.

Second, apart from the case manager, we work with volunteered time and effort. We deeply appreciate the partnerships of Butler Hospital and South Shore Center, the liaison with Block Island Health Services, the free venue for programs offered by the Island Free Library and the publicity from Block Island Times. Expenses are minimal. NAMI BI also aims to offer some events each year during May, which is Mental Health Month. These involve our time, and organization skills, and volunteers, of all kinds, for example offering child care so that parents can attend events..

For anyone wants to become involved and offer their time, as and when they can do so, there is no requirement for professional knowledge or past experience, just willingness. Please ask a Board Member and come along to a meeting.

Third, we  create community conversations on mental health, to offer these and to offer support groups for families. We work as closely as possible with many other groups on the island. There may be a need to undertake training, or, to bring facilitators to the island. We look forward to interest and collaboration in the two-way discussions that help all of us with these initiatives. We were part of the Care coalition that enabled the appointment of a part-time Case-worker, a coordinator of human services, to help those who need services of all kinds make contact with providers on the mainland.

Community opinion is valuable and experiences can be shared. 

Financial detail: In 2014 about $12,000 ensured the provision of help to residents. As what is offered has become better known, that had increased. All donations are helpful, and not just for the monetary value, they show us that the work is valued, that others find it worthwhile. We do not have enough to make effective increase in operating costs.

Donate to NAMI Block Island, PO Box 1719, BI RI 02807.

All gifts are fully tax deductible. Employer ID Number B3-2915592

Both nationally and in Rhode Island State, SAMSHA [The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] are prioritizing initiatives that help provide treatment and services for people with mental and substance use disorders, support the families of people with mental and substance use disorders, build strong and supportive communities, prevent costly behavioral health problems, and promote better health for all Americans. “Now is the Time” is the President’s plan to increase access to mental health services. SAMHSA has played a key role in supporting a number of activities outlined in the plan to help build safer communities. NAMI BI is already planning to follow SAMSHA guidelines to launch Community Conversations on Mental Health to enable the Block Island Community. We have begun to build a Community Team (working collaboratively with other groups in the community). We also plan to offer a family series of group meetings.

To do this effectively we believe that at a minimum, we need access to funding for training group facilitators, and for travel, to training events. We think we are already using all the local expertise we have, given freely.

That is, our mission to provide Services, Support and Education, all need funding in the short term. In particular, the ongoing requirement to fund the Case Manager is a necessity for the services to continue even as they are now.

Donate to NAMI Block Island, PO Box 1719, BI RI 02807. Employer ID Number B3-2915592, tax deductible.

*Trends Themes and Effective Practices in State legislation – NB Rhode Island has reduced its spending on Mental Health in past years, not because of less need. We need political influence too.

4 thoughts on “Our current need on Block Island

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