County Conversations: Engaging Residents on Behavioral and Mental Health

A person reaching out to lift up another
Did you know? One in five adults in Mecklenburg County reported experiencing poor mental health for eight or more days in a month? 

Over two nights in March 2024, Mecklenburg County residents came together to learn more about behavioral and mental health and join the effort to make things better for their neighbors. 

The sessions were part of Mecklenburg’s “County Conversations” series, giving residents the opportunity to listen, learn, and share about how they feel about mental health issues and how Mecklenburg County can help. Mental health outreach is among the projects identified by residents in County Commission district five as part of Participatory Budgeting, where residents vote on projects for Mecklenburg County to implement. As a result, Mecklenburg County organized and hosted two County Conversations in the district, at Queens University Sports Complex and South Mecklenburg High School. 

Did you know? Nearly 25% of adults are diagnosed with depression. 

Each County Conversation included an update on the County’s work to address behavioral health, a panel discussion, an interactive game hosted by Charlotte is Creative, and discussion and brainstorming among the participants at their tables with their ideas shared with leaders and policymakers. The feedback will also be used in the development of the Behavioral Health Strategic Plan that the County will publish in the spring of 2024. 

What is Behavioral Health: Behavioral health encompasses mental health and substance use disorders along with life stressors, emotional crises, and negative health consequences from stress or trauma. Behavioral health care refers to services designed to prevent, diagnose, or treat these issues. Mental is often used as a catchall term for all behavioral health conditions or emotional wellbeing. The presentation from the County also included a list of behavioral health resources available to residents, including the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. View the full presentation.

Did you know? From 2019 to 2021, emergency department visits for suicide attempts in children under 18 years of age increased by 20%. 

The panel discussion comprised experts in mental health and counseling from across the community, and included the opportunity for residents to ask questions and speak candidly.  

Cotrane Penn, Ph.D., Executive Director, Student Wellness and Academic Support, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 
“From a mental health and diagnostic standpoint, the things that we are seeing the most in our students are behavioral and emotional concerns related to depression and anxiety, and students who are encountering a high level of traumatic experiences in their communities as well as at home. Those are the biggest challenges that we're seeing right now. And a major challenge for us in the schools is supporting families and gaining access to services. So, it’s not just the behavioral or emotional challenge, but also how do you get the support that you might need.” 

Wendy Pascual, Latino Community Advocate, Founder and Principal Consultant, Crossways Consulting 
“In the Latino community, there is still a stigma that we don’t speak about mental health. Remember, people came here for a better life, and the mentality is that we don’t have time for that. We have to drive. We have to excel. We have to get the house. We have to get the American dream, so we don’t have time to think about how we are feeling. Even if the younger generation wants to talk about it, the parents do not because it shows weakness, shows that you are not focusing. And remember that many of the immigrant community here have family in their country that they are working to support, so we don’t have time to talk about that.  

Victor Armstrong, MSW, Vice President for Health Equity and Engagement, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
“Even during the time when suicide rates were trending down in 2018-2019, they were trending upward in black and brown communities. We’re seeing rises in suicide rates in black and brown communities in ways we have not seen in the past. From 2020 to 2021, the suicide rate for black individuals age 15 to 29 increased by 39%. So a lot of my focus is on trying to move past the one size fits all model and really focus on how to drill down into communities and reach historically marginalized communities with resources that are culturally relevant, resources that are relevant to their lived experience, and resources that people are willing to utilize because if we don't create resources that people are willing to utilize we have not created access for those communities.” 

Dr. David Chadwick, Pastor, Moments of Hope Church, Master Degree in Counseling Master Degree of Divinity, Doctorate of Ministry
“Two things: teens and parents need to get off their phones and start talking at every level. It's not just teens with the problem; the adults have the problem as well, and as a result of that we're seeing isolation. And the isolation is causing more loneliness and addiction, and that's causing more negative feelings, which I think leads to depression and perhaps even suicide itself. Secondly, realize that we are Body, Soul and Spirit. As a pastor, I understand the word salvation to mean more than just eternal life, it means wholeness of life and we're not paying much attention to how your spiritual life affects your body and how your lack of exercise affects your mental health and those intermingling issues that I think allow a person to live a life to the full.”  

Did you know? From 2021 to 2022, drug overdose deaths increased by 22%. 

Mecklenburg County and the Board of County Commissioners have identified health access—including behavioral health—as a top priority for improving the well-being of residents. As a result, the County is leading the development of the behavioral health strategic plan to help guide the use of public funding for behavioral health services in the community. Key priorities to be considered in the development of the plan include: collaborative and coordinated care; social determinants of health; prevention and early intervention; access to care; and service array. 

View photos from each County Conversation.