NPR Interview: What S:US is Doing to Support People with Mental Health & Substance Use Challenges During COVID-19

A big thanks to VP of Behavioral Health, Recovery & Treatment at S:US, Nadjete Natchaba, who spoke with Long Island radio host, Gianna Volpe, on Heart of the East End program this week, sharing S:US’ mission and the vital work our staff is doing to help New York’s most vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis.

S:US is proud and thankful for our amazing staff for the work they are doing on the frontlines of this public health crisis. Listen to the interview or read the full transcript below.

To learn more on how you can help today, please visit: https://sus.org/sus-response-to-coronavirus-how-you-can-help/


Nadjete Natchaba – NPR Interview Transcript

Gianna Volpe:
.. and that is my last guest of this morning, Big thanks to her, and also before we get into it, a reminder about Metro Focus, which is 5:00, 7:00 and 11:00 PM on channel 21 W-L-I-W here on Long Island. They’re going to be speaking with Republican state assembly woman, Nicole Malliotakis tonight. That will be cast also at 11:00 here on 88.3 FM, but right now live, is Nadjete, good morning and thank you for your time.

Nadjete Natchaba:
Good morning and thank you for having me. How are you?

Gianna Volpe:
I am, you know, it’s a tough time but I think we’re all doing our best to be there for one another. This is something you know all about being there for not only one another, but vulnerable sects of our population. I know that you deal quite a bit with our homeless population here in New York, and I have to imagine those numbers are going to be a little staggering in the coming months as the population deals with a lot of changes. How can we help them? And also help ourselves during this tough time?

Nadjete Natchaba:
Oh, thank you for that question. During this time where we have lost the sense of normalcy and faced with many challenges, I think we have to remember the most vulnerable and how this pandemic affects them. As far as Services for the UnderServed, because of who we are and what we do, which is with people who are at risk of homelessness, dealing with mental health and substance use challenges, disconnection with families. We have high needs and high demand. So supporting us in our mission to drive a scalable solution to diminish this societal imbalance has given us probation so we can continue.

Gianna Volpe:
How can people do that?

Nadjete Natchaba:
Well, they can visit us at sus.org or email us at info@sus.org, and over there it will give them a sense of who we are, the number of lives that we touch, and how to make a donation to our organization.

Gianna Volpe:
So let’s hear some of those numbers, and I imagine they’re rising. What services and how many people do Services for the UnderServed help?

Nadjete Natchaba:
So in a calendar year, we service about 37,000 vulnerable New Yorkers that have walked through our doors for different types of services, whether it’s for treatment or housing, we’re talking about 37,000 people who S:US have been able to extend their hand and provide some sort of services to.

Gianna Volpe:
Okay, so that is Services for the UnderServed, that’s S-U-S dot O-R-G. What are some of the techniques that you guys are telling your clients during this time to remain calm and stay clean, stay healthy in mind, body and soul.

Nadjete Natchaba:
Right, so the first thing is to really normalize what people are feeling. Acknowledging the sense of collective loss that we’re having and also honor the people that we’re serving. Because as providers, what we do is tell people we need you to connect, we really tell people they need to connect, go out and meet people and build their network. And now, all of a sudden, we are coming back and saying for us to survive this, we need you to withdraw from things and do them in a different manner. So, it’s really having patience for everyone.

Nadjete Natchaba:
For the providers to also understand and embrace this, manage their own anxiety, which we have to create space for that. Naming what people are feeling. Once we address that with the providers, then they go out, they make contact with other folks and have the patience to say, guys, this is different. What are you feeling? You don’t like telephonic conversations? We understand that. How do we, in this moment and this reality, where we have very little power over certain things, we have power over what time you want us to connect with you? What time would you want us to call you? How long do you want to stay on this call? So, I think helping people find a sense of control.

Gianna Volpe:
And it’s also really interesting. I like how you’re talking about the fact that a lot of the tools that we’ve used for mental health is building a strong support system, but right now it’s complete opposite messaging, but that connection need and support system need remains the same. It’s important to note that, talking about patience I hope that people will have the patience with themselves and also to step outside of one’s comfort zone.

Gianna Volpe:
I know that, personally, that has been difficult at times. Even considering how I’m used to being on live radio, used to being on video, you’re now being asked to be on phone calls and video or whatnot, or change the way that you’re doing things and it is something … Especially because routine is so important for me, having my whole, that little semblance of routine is now shaken up.

Gianna Volpe:
So when you are not someone that is mired with deep roots, having a large local family support system or these other elements, that can be very disorienting. But I think that it’s so important, ultimately, for all of us to just accept the situation and try our best to step outside of our comfort zones and then thank ourselves for doing so and/or forgive ourselves for the way in which we may not be showing up for ourselves.

Gianna Volpe:
And I think the patience element for everyone is just crucial, because right now I am feeling that there is a little bit of collective cabin fever feeling going on, but there are ways. There’s news apps, there’s House Party and Zoom and FaceTime and all sorts of ways that people are staying in touch. But as long as you realize it’s going to be all right and you make the effort, even sometimes when you might not want to, to reach out in some way at another person’s agreed schedule. It’s what we’re doing right now, right?

Nadjete Natchaba:
Yes, that’s what we’re doing. And I just wanted to underscore that all those methods that you talked about, Zoom and connecting online, for our folks, what we are actually doing more is to find ways for them to do that. Because having Wi-Fi, believe it or not, is a privilege for some of our folks, because when you have people of low socioeconomic status who have very limited resources, all the things that are being pushed up have the built-in assumptions that people do know how to work, that people do have the amenities available.

Nadjete Natchaba:
So it’s also having those challenges to deal with, and then the cabin fever. You have people in the home that you have interpersonal conflict with that, normally, you will go and you will go into your activities. Now it’s really addressing what’s happening in the home, now that you’re in the home more, how do we help people find a happy medium and cohabitate? Because, again, a stable home, cabin fever is fine. Other stresses already with cabin fever is another element that to be able to address that, so there is some peace in the home and people just really being patient and kind with themselves and I just want to extend that to other people.

Gianna Volpe:
Thank you so much, that’s Nadjete Natchaba, VP of Recovery and Treatment Services at Services for the UnderServed. Such an important point. I was reading a phenomenal story in the New York Times the other day, it was a sad moment, and it was about this, I believe a young girl who was trying to take some sort of test or do some distance learning from school and was on the … The internet went out in her home, in the homeless shelter where she was staying with her family.

Gianna Volpe:
So it’s true. I hope that those who are stable enough, that they’ve got Wi-Fi going on, remember that not everyone does and that there are organizations like Services for the UnderServed who are helping those folks. You can find out more information about them at S-U-S dot O-R-G. Now I’m curious, do you have a sense that you’re going to be serving more? That there will be more underserved Americans in the coming months and years?

Nadjete Natchaba:
Absolutely. Absolutely. You see what is happening now, you have anxiety, mental anxiety and other elements that are adding to this. The economic effect, people who are already marginalized and disadvantaged, when you add the toll of new group of people who are joining this category. So, we need to be ready. We are ready to provide, right now, giving that emotional support to people who weren’t originally seeking support. So, you have a new wave of people who are coming with the existing people who have to add this new sudden change in normal to their day-to-day.

Nadjete Natchaba:
So the need will be higher, and that is natural. In the pandemic, after a pandemic, people have to recover. The grief that is there, all those elements need to be addressed before people can get back to normal. It’s not like it’s over, let’s get back to life. There’s so many other things that are connected that needs to be addressed, that’s being addressed now, but it’s being ready and positioned to be able to take on that additional influx that is coming in and will continue.

Gianna Volpe:
Now, Nadjete, how can people get involved and become more aware of the issues that the homeless or underserved or vulnerable sects of our population face today?

Nadjete Natchaba:
So on our S:US website, really you get a full spectrum of the different arms that we have in terms of different population and what we do, but there’s a lot of information on that page. What we didn’t cover is how do people gain access to us. Those who want services, how do they get access to us? And that is at services@sus.org. It is one central access point for people who are looking for service, because we know people come with compounded issues.

Nadjete Natchaba:
So we’re not going to give you one number for you to call just for clinic services, and then for housing, it’s one central number that you call or email, and then someone helps you navigate what it is that you need because of the myriad of services that we have. So, it is services@sus.org and that’s our single point access email. And the number for that is (877) 583-5336. Through that people can gain whatever services they want through us, will be able to navigate that for them so they’re not calling different places. They are connected directly to the services that they need.

Gianna Volpe:
Nadjete, I cannot thank you enough for your time this morning. I’m going to give a different number for the Covid-19 hotline, just to return a little bit to what the main issue that we’re all facing right now. There is a Stony Brook Southampton Hospital hotline from 8:00 AM to midnight, (631) 638-1320. Again, that’s (631) 638-1320 for information on Covid-19. Specifically, we have been speaking with Nadjete Natchaba of the Services for the UnderServed and cannot thank you enough for coming on our show today.

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