Above: Bob Houghtaling and members of the East Greenwich Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services team at the Town Council meeting April 24.
Bob Houghtaling and his team spell out the challenges
When Bob Houghtaling first started working for the Town of East Greenwich in the 1980s at the town’s drug prevention counselor, “the whole notion of mental health was not on board,” he told the Town Council at their April 24 meeting. Back then, he said, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of the population needed clinical mental health services. Today, at least 50 percent of children in our schools are experiencing some kind of condition where they want help, he said.
And it’s not just kids. When the pandemic happened, Houghtaling learned there were lots of adults who were having a difficult time coping.
“We started our walks, meeting with people and trying to keep people connected,” he said, both young people and adults.
Houghaling said there has been such significant need, others were needed to help, like Kathy Sullivan from Kent County Prevention Coalition, who has teamed up with Houghtaling on a variety of sessions for adults and youths.
“There is so much stigma still around mental health … treatment does work,” she said, but only if people aren’t too ashamed to seek help
“In East Greenwich, we’re trying to merge prevention and treatment so that prevention becomes treatment,” said Houghtaling. “We are cultivating the ground so when individuals do need support … they are coming to people they already know.”
“I’m very jealous of East Greenwich,” said John Tassoni, CEO of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of R.I., referring to the program Houghtaling has built to help children, youths and adults. “There’s no other city or town that has a program like this. I wish the other 38 had a program like this.”
Tassoni said overdoses are “through the roof,” and said there is a scarcity of treatment beds and services for people in crisis.
Psychotherapist Michael Cerullo has worked with Houghtaling for decades. “Substances are seldom the only thing we’re dealing with,” he said, “so, there are no cookie-cutter solutions – it takes time and resources.”
“There is no health without mental health. What we know today about the biological components of mental health reinforce this idea,” Cerullo said.
Sulina Mohanty has known Houghtaling for decades as well but first met him as a student in town. A member of the EGHS Class of 2003 graduate, Mohanty worked with Houghtaling to ban smoking from restaurants while she was still in high school.
“Creating a sense of belonging is what Bob’s been doing for the past 40 years,” she told the Town Council. “We have something really special here and I thank you for supporting it.”
Andrew Belcher, clinical social worker at Thrive Behavioral Health, is also working with Houghtaling and the town on programs, specifically with EGHS right now.
“We build programming that meets our clients where they’re at,” he said, noting they are working with students and staff.
Houghtaling’s final guest speaker was Amanda Wallace, the granddaughter of his longtime police partner – the town’s first youth officer – Tom Joyce. Joyce died last year; Wallace is a sophomore at EGHS.
For Houghtaling and Wallace, there was a sense of legacy, caring on the work of Tom and Janet, his wife, both of whom gave countless hours to the town, especially the town’s youth. For Wallace, their work has helped guide her.
“Find yourself a place where you can support yourself,” she said. “but not at the expense of others, and help your community.”
A reminder: There is suicide prevention and crisis hotline staffed 24/7: 988.
The East Greenwich Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Program will be involved with a myriad of initiatives all designed to enhance knowledge of a major concern – mental health. In addition to special messages from PAWS, informational articles in local media sources, a mental health walk (Smell the Flowers) and Pre-Prom Awareness initiatives, the program will partner with the Kent County Prevention Coalition for presentations at the East Greenwich Free Library. They will also be working with Faith Hill Farm for a wellness fair (Spring Fling Wellness Fair) which will be held on the grounds of the farm.
May 3 – Partners for Prevention and Mental Health. This program will be held at the East Greenwich Free Library from 6:00-7:30 PM.
May 6 – Smell the Flowers – a Mental Health Month celebration walk. We will begin this event at 9:30 AM at the Swift Community Center parking lot.
May 7 – Spring Fling Wellness Fair and community gathering held on the beautiful grounds of Faith Hill Farm. This event will run from 11:00 to 3:00 PM.
May 12 – Pre-Prom Awareness Program. This program will be offered by the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation at East Greenwich High School for Juniors and Seniors attending the Prom.
May 24 – LGBTQ+ Youth & Substance Abuse. This event will be held from 6:00-7:30 PM at the East Greenwich Free Library and run by the Kent County Prevention Coalition.
For more information regarding these programs, contact Bob Houghtaling at 401–230–2246 or [email protected]