Kids in Crisis | Need mental health help? There's a site for that

May 10, 2017
by Rory Linnane, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

NEENAH - When Jen Zenzick lost her sister to suicide, Zenzick was left with questions she'd never get answers to. Among them: What if help had been only a click away? Would things be different?

The two decades passed since then do not make the questions any less urgent, especially as Zenzick notes the alarming suicide rates in her Fox Valley community. She hopes a new website launching Thursday will make all the difference for those struggling now. She was one of the beta testers.

"My sister was in a deep, dark place and if she would have been able to have something like this, maybe she could have reached out to someone," Zenzick said.

Though Zenzick's sister was seeing a counselor, it was kept quiet because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. The new website has a big red "need help now" button — one of many tools Zenzick thinks will make it easier for struggling people to reach help independently.

The website was created by a coalition of providers and advocates in the Fox Cities with the goal of helping youth and adults determine what kind of mental health support they might need, and showing them how to find it in Outagamie, Calumet and Winnebago counties. The site is available now at myconnectionnew.org.

The coalition — called the Northeast Wisconsin (N.E.W.) Mental Health Connection — launched the website after years of seeking a way to improve access to care and identify service gaps. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin's Kids in Crisis series found that youth around the state are reporting high rates of hopelessness and dying by suicide while support is hard to come by.

"We really took the (Kids in Crisis) recommendations at the end of last year as marching orders," said Beth Clay, director of the Connection. "We can't wait for the state to do it, or for something to happen nationally. If we want change in our community, we have to do it locally."

In a trip to the Connection's new website, a user can take a survey to learn about mental health challenges they might be dealing with. In another click, visitors can read articles about the conditions, and reach counselors immediately via crisis lines.

For more long-term support, users can find counselors, psychiatrists and other professionals that best match their needs, take their insurance, serve their age group and are sensitive to other considerations such as a language, culture and sexual orientation.

The database of providers was seeded with information from United Way's 2-1-1 program, a 24-hour helpline that connects people with a variety of social services. But it also includes for-profit providers, and it allows providers to update their own information online.

"We knew there was a need to showcase a more robust platform to find new resources for the community," said Lisa Smith, who manages the Fox Cities' 2-1-1 program. "If folks can't find what they need, they can still dial 2-1-1."

And organizers will be watching for just that. Without seeing the identities of individual users, the Connection will be able to see how people navigate the website, what they search for — and which searches return zero results.

Smith already knows where there's one major gap: providers who are willing to take patients on Medicaid. The site may help to identify other shortage areas as well.

The website was developed by Trilogy, a company in California that used a federal grant to develop a template for health care websites. The Connection paid Trilogy $30,000 to develop the localized site with a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership Fund of the Community Foundation for Fox Valley Region. That fund is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation and other community partners.

There is an ongoing cost of $30,000 per year to maintain the site, which the Connection hopes to fund through grants or membership fees.

The Connection will be unveiling the website and kicking off Mental Health Awareness Month Thursday morning in Appleton.