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AgCenter collaborates to assess mental health issues in New Orleans

News Release Distributed 12/15/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU AgCenter and the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University have been working with local stakeholders to identify behavioral health needs of Orleans Parish residents and are sharing best practices for improving community behavioral health.

Orleans Parish had the privilege of serving as one of the 10 pilot communities, said LSU AgCenter urban health state specialist Annrose Guarino.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture underwrote the project because it wanted information on the behavioral health of these communities and how local community leaders obtain and use information about community behavioral health trends.

The Orleans Parish team that worked on this Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning & Evaluation (CAPE) project covered a broad cross-section of agencies, Guarino said.

Project members discussed the results of their assessment with stakeholders at a community meeting in October.

The discussion at that meeting was a compilation of county, state and national trends for various community behavioral health indicators. These indicators were from secondary sources, as well as the findings from a survey of Orleans Parish community leaders administered by the CAPE Project, Guarino said.

This project explored how local health decision makers gain information on behavioral health practices and how they obtain information for coordinated local efforts.

Out of 22 conditions listed in the survey, the three behavioral health issues most frequently selected as a priority by leaders in Orleans Parish, were post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and adult depression, she said.

“CAPE has been assembling a tool kit to help improve the use of available data and community-level interventions to address pressing community behavioral health issues,” Guarino said.

The CAPE Project is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Regional Rural Development Centers.

“Since behavioral health problems are ongoing struggles for communities, it is important for local leaders to have access to accurate data about behavioral health and resources available in their communities,” she said.

“There are different ways for how this plays out at the local level,” said Scott Loveridge, director of CAPE National Initiative from Michigan State University. “So we need to do a better job of helping decision makers figure out what’s going on in their communities and do some early warning.”

Brent Elrod, national program leader for community and rural development at USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, helped launch the program at the federal level.

“This is truly a collaborative effort,” Elrod said, as federal, state and local partners are involved in the project.

The goal of the project is to help community leaders understand where to find relevant data specific to their locale and promote more effective behavioral health policies and programs, Elrod said.

“The Orleans Parish CAPE Project was successful in bringing key stakeholders together to engage in dialogue about top behavioral health priorities,” Guarino said.

The next step for Orleans Parish is to consider the quality of programs and initiatives that are addressing the top behavioral health priorities, she said.

“During the community event, participants were asked to indicate whether the existing policies, initiatives and program in Orleans Parish align with the CAPE survey results,” she said.

A two-page snapshot of the CAPE findings related to Orleans Parish, as well as an extended profile with more detailed information, is available online at

For more information about the initiative, contact Guarino at 985-785-4473, visit the website at or follow the project on Twitter @healthbench.

Johnny Morgan

Last Updated: 12/15/2014 3:12:13 PM

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