Charles “Rich” Panther is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on the mental health needs of adults. He has more than 20 years of experience in mental health and social work capacities, and he has provided services in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Rich is licensed in North Carolina to provide clinical services, and he is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Below Rich discusses what inspired him to become a licensed clinical social worker and what prompted him to become involved in telebehavioral health!

What inspired you to become a licensed clinical social worker?

I enjoyed Psychology as an undergraduate but I became interested in Social Work when a friend told me about her job at an Outreach Center of a Senior Citizens Center. It sounded like fun, so I applied for a job there and got it. I liked helping to coordinate the Meals-on-Wheels program, as well as a handyman service for Center clients, but mostly I enjoyed going into their homes to help them pay bills, write letters and anything else they needed done. It was very hands-on work with people who needed help and it felt good to help them.

After that introduction to Social Work, I got a job as a Mental Health Technician at a Behavioral Health Hospital. It was a concentrated education in itself and I also learned the value of having a great and supportive staff too. An LCSW was ultimately the outcome of those experiences.

What do you do in your free-time?

Mostly I manage our three rescue dogs with walks and all the other care taking needed. They are demanding fun. I also take online classes for fun and I’m now learning about web development. Additionally, I manage a couple of community Facebook pages for residents of Cherokee, NC primarily; and I enjoy reading, particularly book by authors Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Seligman. My wife and I like attending various activities in the city like festivals and music concerts. We meet up with friends around a fire in the backyard occasionally or just work in our garden on weekends.

What prompted you to become involved in telebehavioral health and what advantages do you see within the telehealth field?

I live and work in a rural area where physically reaching someone to help them can be a challenge. Drive-time and a lack of transportation have sometimes been a hindrance for people to get to my office in the past. I’ve always wanted a way to access patients that made it easy for anyone to participate. Telehealth is perfect for that. Patients don’t have to spend time getting to me, and when the session is over they can open the door and walk out to their family again.

Sometimes people are reluctant to make an appointment in a behavioral health office thinking that they might not be feeling “bad enough” to come in. They should see someone before they feel miserable, if possible, to avoid feeling worse. I hope that telebehavioral health becomes so commonly thought of by patients that they can quickly and conveniently access the session they need before they feel bad.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. Can you discuss why it is so important to shed light on this topic and discuss warning signs and risk factors?

Suicide is a growing problem that we, as a society, can do more to help. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the U.S and 90% of people who die by suicide had shown symptoms of a mental health condition.

We need to be more comfortable with discussing the topic – it’s okay to talk about suicide. We all know someone who has struggled emotionally, and this shows how common these feelings are. If any of us are there to help support someone while we direct them to the help they need, we can help limit their suffering and perhaps save a life.

Here are a few warning signs of suicide:

  • Suicidal ideation – comments/thoughts can begin small like; “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.”
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or someone you know starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a medical professional or call 911:

  • Buying a weapon or collecting and saving pills
  • Giving away possessions
  • Tying up loose ends; like making arrangements for the care of children or pets, organizing personal papers, or paying off debts
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

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