Mental health issues a concern in S. Lake Tahoe


By Kathryn Reed

There is no magic pill to cure mental illness. There is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There is no single cause.

The complexities of the illness and limited resources in South Lake Tahoe can exacerbate the problem or delay diagnosis. And being in a small town may mean those in need feel intimidated about asking for help for fear they will be mocked or run into the person who is helping them at the grocery store or elsewhere. Added to the equation, Medi-Cal options are limited.

These were some of the revelations to come out of last week’s mental health workshop sponsored by Tahoe Regional Young Professionals at Lake Tahoe Community College. Panelists were Cheyenne Lane with Tahoe Youth & Family Services, Sabrina Owen from El Dorado County Mental Health Services, and Betsy Glass, social worker with Barton Health.

Lane has noticed that while her agency’s crisis line is receiving fewer calls, experts don’t believe this is because the need has diminished.

“I think now we need something more like a text help line. We would get more younger people to talk to us,” Lane said.

With there being no psychiatrist in South Lake Tahoe, Barton Health uses telemedicine to reach specialists. This month Barton started offering telepsychology as well. Patients are able to interact with these medical professionals remotely and in turn receive care and prescriptions.

TED Talks are another resource, according to the panelists. This is for those in need of help and those wanting to learn what can be done.

Cheyenne Lane with Tahoe Youth & Family Services, Sabrina Owen from El Dorado County Mental Health Services, and Betsy Glass, social worker with Barton Health.

Cheyenne Lane with Tahoe Youth & Family Services, from left, Sabrina Owen from El Dorado County Mental Health Services, and Betsy Glass, social worker with Barton Health, talk about metal health issues. Photo/LTN

All three said it’s imperative for each member of society to learn compassion, to listen to people and then try to provide help. Help can be a shoulder to cry on, getting the person care or alerting authorities.

Those with mental health issues are prone to hurting themselves as well as others – sometimes fatally either by committing suicide or homicide.

Owen said car accidents don’t always get recorded as a suicide or the deliberate killing of someone else. Without a note left behind or a survivor to tell the story, these deaths get labeled merely as a vehicle “accident”.

About one-third of the audience admitted to having had thoughts of suicide in the past. The professionals guessed even more sitting there were afraid to raise their hands.

Depression is a mental issue with many gradients to it. It is something everyone will experience. It’s the degree and how one copes with it that varies so greatly.

“A lot of times people with mental health issues are always in a state of anxiety,” Lane said.

How a past trauma translates to mental health issues is a relatively new area of study. Glass said conversations and studies about physiological impact on mental health are just starting.

Trauma could be a car accident, military experience, sexual abuse, childhood upbringing or something else.

“Your history affects how you respond to current situations,” Owen said.

The presenters noted that on the South Shore the level of poverty (more than 60 percent of students in Lake Tahoe Unified School District qualify for a reduced or free lunch) is contributing to mental health issues. It may be manifested with alcohol or other drug use, domestic violence or child abuse.

Poverty often means poor nutrition and living conditions. This can all lead to stress. Stress is a mental issue and can escalate into unhealthy situations.

Lane said one of the problems with today’s society is people are desensitized.

People seem to accept certain behaviors that a few years ago would have come with consequences for the aggressor.

“When we are in pain we hurt others. We hurt ourselves,” Glass said.

Mental issues also can come in the form of bullying and lashing out. That type of inflicted pain is harder to define. It’s something akin to knowing what pornography is when one sees it, but not always being able define it cerebrally. Mentally stable individuals don’t routinely act in a bullying manner.

“Bullies are often diagnosed with anti-social personalities,” Owen said.

She said children who are bullied tend to have issues as adults.

But it’s not just adults who have mental health issues.

According to the gun-control advocacy group Everytown Gun Safety, there were an average of two shootings a month in K-12 schools in 2013.

There is a growing desire by some in law enforcement and mental health circles for the media to not use the names of the shooter. This way their deadly act is not glamorized. For the media, though, the First Amendment is a concern.

Owen said it’s important to talk about what goes on, but at the same there is a need to be careful what the media shows.

School shootings aren’t just something local law enforcement deals with. The FBI has a behavior-analysis team working with schools that have identified students they believe pose a potential threat. The federal government has also made $45 million available for armed school resource officers.

South Tahoe High School for years has had such an officer on campus – at least sporadically.

California requires all law enforcement officers to receive some training in how to handle calls involving mental health issues. A select number of El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies have received extra training to be more specialized in these types of situations.



·      South Lake Tahoe 24-hour crisis hot line – 530.544.2219.

·      National 24-hour crisis hot line – 800.273.8255.

·      There will be a free Mental Health First Aid for Youth class through Barton University on Nov. 22 from 8am-4pm. For more info, go online.


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Comments (5)
  1. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: October 27, 2015

    This country by far leads the planet in school shootings. Years ago the investigation almost always, if not always revealed a shooter abused at the school. Looks like people don’t want a cure, treating symptoms only.

    That armed officer at SLTHS was sent to a federal prison as an inmate.

    The state of Utah allows armed teachers, not one mass shooting ever in the history of that state that I know of.

  2. Justice says - Posted: October 27, 2015

    Since the county adopted “Laura’s Law” and received 500k to go with it one would think resources would improve and mandatory treatment would increase. Untreated mental illness is a major public safety concern across the country and this law mandating treatment should be in all states. Also should be a way to flag people in the system by using the DMV records.

  3. Garry Bowen says - Posted: October 27, 2015

    Kae’s photo & copy did not include Matthew Wong, the licensed child psychologist specializing in emotional, learning, behavioral & social struggles, who, as a child assessment therapist moderated this forum. . .

    South Lake Tahoe has specific & unique issues commensurate with a 24/7 economy, but absent some of the support services & normal camaraderie not included in a multiple-shift environment. . .even while seeing the outside world portrayed as it is: shootings, special effects, crashes of all sorts, with an ever-increasing focus on money that escapes those with no access to much of it. . .

    A recipe for the difficulties mentioned, as conditions warrant. . . so increase in pressure is not a surprise. . .

  4. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: October 27, 2015

    Mental illness is a physiological illness affecting brain chemistry which no one asks to have or brings upon themselves. Physiology is the branch of biology dealing with the function and activities of living organisms and their parts, and if an individual needs medication to assist in the function of their brain chemistry is that really any different than someone needing thyroid medication to assist with their thyroid function, insulin to assist their pancreas, a statin lowering medication to reduce cholesterol, or medication therapy to reduce high blood pressure? The continued unfortunate stigmas associated with mental illness are not only archaic they are ignorant. Perhaps if some people spent a little time educating themselves on the physiology of mental illness and not mocking it and being cruelly judgmental, more individual’s needing help would come forward or the advocates of those in need of help would come forward on their behalf. Untreated mental illness can cause an individual to become a ticking time bomb, and society’s recognition of that is way past due along with the need to become informed and to help provide treatment.

    Spouse – 4-mer-usmc

  5. Christopher Croft says - Posted: October 27, 2015

    Fantastic forum! However, there are MediCal providers for Mental Health Services in
    Lake Tahoe. Tahoe Youth and Family Services is a contracted MediCal provider for youth and families with El Dorado County along with Sierra Child and Family Services.