BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – State officials and Indiana University have partnered to expand mental health services in some rural areas.

The new program offers free telehealth counseling appointments at libraries. Right now, the service is available in Lawrence, Pike, Sullivan and Washington counties, according to officials at IU. You do not have to be a resident of those counties to participate.

“The great thing about libraries, they are a community hub, they’re a trusted hub,” said Todd Burkhardt of the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement. “There’s no stigma at all associated with going to a library. You can go to a library for all kinds of reasons.”

The state has set aside $200,000 for the program, according to Lydia Kirschner, communications manager for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Indiana University graduate students studying social work provide the counseling under the supervision of IU faculty, according to John Keesler, associate professor with the IU School of Social Work.

Organizers say they hope to eventually expand the service to more counties.

“Another part of this project is to assess the viability of doing a similar project with faith-based communities,” Keesler said. “We know that for Hoosiers, going to church and being affiliated with a faith-based community is extremely important.”

Angela Cox, health administrator for Henry County, said she hopes to see the service expand to her area.

“We are maxed out, and we need more,” Cox said of the current availability of mental health care in her community.

Henry County has nearly 50,000 residents, Cox said, but they have to drive to Richmond or Muncie for inpatient treatment. And there aren’t enough outpatient services, she added.

“Our providers that were with us and stayed with us through the pandemic, they’re struggling themselves, they are suffering burnout, PTSD, and we’re going to lose a fraction of them now,” Cox said.

Cox describes East Central Indiana as a “desert” for mental health services.

“Telehealth is the best tool that we have for emotional and mental health services, hands down,” she said. “And that is going to be the only way we’re going to get a handle on this.”

For more information on booking an appointment, click here.