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Boreal Community Media

Rural mental health program has broad scope

Jun 26, 2020 06:08AM ● By Editor
From Business North - June 25, 2020

In northern Minnesota, “rural” means more than just farmers. A Duluth-based program to address mental health needs across the region is designed with farmers and others in the rural workforce in mind.

“We’re interested to find out if up here in the northern part of the state we find that we also … have people responding from the mining community,” said Kristie L. Hills, director of rural health and substance abuse for the Lake Superior Community Health Center . “And the forestry community as well.”

The center’s Rural Mental Health Care Program launched in March when Rich Tunell of Superior, Wisconsin, was hired to lead it. An Air Force veteran with a master’s degree in clinical counseling, Tunell already has a miner among his clients, he said.

The free and confidential program makes Tunell available for farmers, miners and loggers in northern Minnesota over the phone. But Tunell said he’s also eager to meet with people where they live and work to provide face-to-face counseling.

The program came about, Hills said, when leaders at the community health center became aware of the growing number of suicides in rural areas. The Minnesota Department of Health, for example, reviewed data from 2013-17 and found a higher suicide rate in Greater Minnesota than in the seven-county metro area.

Hills’ research brought her to Ted Matthews , a psychologist who has been serving the mental health needs of farmers in southern and central Minnesota for 20 years under a contract with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Matthews’ work originally had been funded by a grant. Jessie Peterson, the center’s director of strategy and community, looked for a grant source in the Northland, and found it in the Miller-Dwan Foundation .

Traci Marciniak, the foundation’s president, said the program fit Miller-Dwan’s mission, which includes supporting mental health care for children and adults.

“The reality is that members of the farming community have been woefully underserved in the past,” Marciniak wrote in an email. “So this is a wonderful opportunity to give them the care they need in a way that works for them.”

Tunell, 54, whose background includes project management, emerged as the right person to provide that care, Hills said.

“It just felt like a really good fit,” Hills said. “Sometimes it isn’t anything specific. It was just that he made the most sense for the position.”

Anyone interested in talking with Tunell can reach him at 218-730-6833 or by email at [email protected].