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Making headlines

January 1, 2007
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A North Carolina agency develops a publication to inform the community about available social services

Five County Mental Health Authority in Henderson, North Carolina, and the Daily Dispatch of Henderson won the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare's Excellence in Media and Journalism Award in April. In July 2005 we published Positive Change, a 40-page newspaper insert with information on mental health, developmental disability, and substance abuse services.

Positive Change reached more than 45,800 homes and businesses in Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Vance, and Warren counties in rural north-central North Carolina. Another 2,000 copies were distributed to legislators; policy makers in state and local governments; members of the local judiciary; officials in the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services; and others. Five County staff distributed copies to local physicians, departments of social services, and health centers for placement in waiting areas. We also worked with community organizations to make sure that the publication ended up in the hands of those who would most benefit from its information but may not receive the publication through normal delivery channels.

Positive Change detailed family group activities, support groups, networking information, and where to seek services. Articles provided insights on best practices and reforms in North Carolina's mental health/developmental disabilities/substance abuse services delivery system. More than 70 service providers purchased ads and submitted articles describing their services and the populations they serve. Families, community agencies, and the newspaper's staff all were involved in making the project a success.

Positive Change is a great example of a public-private partnership that is a win-win for all involved,” says Foster Norman, director of the Five County Mental Health Authority. “It brought together individuals from different perspectives that created a mechanism that resulted in a better-informed public regarding mental health, developmental disability, and substance abuse issues. It was a great way for the community to learn of these issues and to become familiar with the array of services and providers that are available in our five counties.”

The community definitely needed such a resource. As the agency's community liaison, I had difficultly locating resources in the community and felt a need to develop a community resource directory. In the process of developing this resource, I realized that the newspaper reached a vast majority of citizens and presented a great way to collaborate with community partners. The newspaper was also a more cost-effective way of getting the information out than having the agency publish a directory on its own.

As a result of Positive Change, participation and membership in consumer and advocacy organizations have increased. The demand for information was so great that we produced a comprehensive online resource directory for the region (go to http://www.five and click on “Network of Care”). Referrals to Five County increased, as well.

The project also enhanced collaboration among the community of providers and stakeholders. New opportunities opened up: We now host a bimonthly local radio show called The Doctor Is In, have local columns called “Five County Focus” in each county newspaper, and have spots on local radio and TV stations. Many of our articles are posted on local Web sites. Certainly, though, the most beneficial outcome was the community's increased awareness of the area's mental health, developmental disability, and substance abuse needs and services.

Other agencies are interested in this approach, as well. We are providing technical assistance to six area programs exploring the possibility of creating their own newspaper insert. In the meantime, we published a 2006 edition of Positive Change and plan to do so annually.

Gina DeMent is the Public Information Officer for the Five County Mental Health Authority in Henderson, North Carolina.