SELMA – Turning Point of Central California’s Selma Rural Mental Health clinic now has a new place to call home.

With more room and more privacy, Assistant Program Director Marcos Gonzalez said he and his staff are ready to continue making a difference in the lives of Fresno County residents.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the timing of the grand opening of their clinic at 3400 McCall Ave., Suite 104, was perfect to bring awareness to the subject that is often still difficult for many to talk about.

“There’s still a huge amount of stigma attached to mental health with people not wanting to be labeled as crazy and not wanting thought of having a mental disorder,” said David Tan, a program director with Turning Point who supervises the six clinics across Fresno County. There will be eight clinics by the end of the year.

Gonzalez said one of the barriers to dealing with mental health is cultural misconceptions so that is exactly what their clinicians are trained to recognize.

“We do understand that culture itself presents a lot of challenges. In your family’s culture, this is something we just don’t talk about and if we do, we don’t talk about it with outsiders. It stays within our family. We don’t need to go talk to somebody else. Or, another belief is that depression isn’t real, or that person is just lazy or mentally weak. So those are the challenges our team has to work with every day.”

Previously, Turning Point shared office space since 2013 with the Fresno County Regional Center further north on McCall Avenue. They moved to their new location about a month ago and to make it official, the Selma District Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 7 where staff was introduced and presented certificates by local political representatives. There are 15 staff members there including a psychiatrist, psychologists, four mental health clinicians or therapists, three case managers, a nurse, clerical and supervisorial staff.

“We’re ready to present our new location to everybody and we’ll make more of a presence in the community. Now, we’re a lot more readily accessible, so we’re excited,” Tan said.

Giving a tour of their offices, Gonzalez said clients should feel more comfortable having their own waiting area and a better flow to the space.

Clients would first come to the front desk office and speak with the office manager. They can either refer themselves or their primary doctor may refer them.

“Referrals are made by family doctors such as at United Health, Adventist or Valley Health Team in Kingsburg,” Gonzalez said. “Doctors screen for depression so if people are answering high, or have more questions about that, they’re referred to us.”

Their program is geared towards those who have a moderate to severe mental health illness.

“Think of depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia. Our screener will ask a lot of questions to identify the level of impairment,” he said. “For us, the big difference is how severe is the issue since we can truly offer more support. That’s what our program is designed for.”

There are a series of offices starting off with a nurse’s corner where a psychiatrist speaks with visitors via teleconferencing. Psychiatrists may prescribe medication and they conduct mental health evaluations, Gonzalez said.

“Let’s say someone’s given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia where they’re hearing voices and seeing things that might not be there, the psychiatrist can prescribe medication that can really help them manage their symptoms and really change a lot of people’s lives.”

A nurse’s station is next and then the office for the personal service coordinator who does case management and rehab, which is geared more towards skill building, not substance abuse.

“Skill building is to help clients manage whatever it is that they’re going through. Let’s say someone has a lot of anger issues and they’re punching holes in walls, or they’re getting arrested for punching people. They’re going to learn a new skill to manage their anger,” he said.

There are a number of clinicians’ offices, a space for a driver to coordinate transportation and a peer support member’s work area.

A hallway leads to a conference room where staff meets weekly and a skill-building group meets on Tuesdays.

In his office, Gonzalez said that while the need for mental health services has always been present, now resources are becoming more accessible and with awareness events, the stigma is slightly reduced.

“There’s a really positive outcome, though, because a lot of people do feel better,” he said of the results of care their clients receive. “The more and more we positively treat something, or manage the symptoms, the more that stigma is reduced. People are more likely to say, ‘I was going through this, and I went and talked to somebody and now I’m feeling better.’”

Clients must be willing to participate in treatment, though, and they are seen on an out-patient basis. Also, they must also live in Fresno County. Anyone who calls who lives outside their coverage area will be referred to another agency in their respective area.

“For example, if you had an 18-year-old cousin that you want to get assessed because he’s getting in trouble, not sleeping and really depressed, he’d have to be willing to come in and start the process,” Gonzalez said.

If they do, they’ll be scheduled for a two-hour assessment, then for an appointment with a psychiatrist and case management, if needed.

“Some people need medication and just want to talk to someone. So if they have stable housing and a support system, then they don’t need case management. If not, we’ve got it here,” he said of the available help. “We’re a one-stop shop.”

The goal, Gonzalez said, as the name implies is to be a turning point for clients to change their lives with therapy, medication and support to learn new life skills.

“If you are experiencing something that’s outside of your normal, because everybody’s normal is different, if you’re feeling down, or having thoughts that scare you, or you’re too embarrassed to say you’re hearing voices or seeing things other people aren’t seeing, the stuff we talk about is private,” Gonzalez said. “They have the courage to ask for help, so we help them get through it. I do believe people can greatly benefit from this.”

As far as paying for the service, Gonzalez said the majority of their billing goes through Medical. Otherwise, staff members will check to see if a person’s private insurance covers their services. If not, clients will be billed directly.

“If we’re not the right place for somebody, we’ll do the leg work to find out who is and link you up with those services.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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