We all know New Mexico, like much of the country, is in a behavioral health crisis. We have a shortage of providers, and we don’t pay them enough. And too often, our law enforcement officers find themselves in violent situations that could have been prevented or mitigated with earlier behavioral health intervention.

Through the efforts of Bernalillo County District 5 County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, the East Mountains will get their first public behavioral health resource center this summer. The lease was signed last month at the former Just Imagine Gallery in Tijeras. The new center, due to open in August, will be called Imagine Wellness.

You do not have to be a Bernalillo County resident to avail yourself of the services offered by Imagine Wellness; it is open to any area resident, whether from Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe or Torrance County. The center will focus on peer support, mentoring and “non-talk” therapies and provide referrals to clinical services.

The program will operate 5-6 days a week and extend into non-traditional hours to support school and work schedules. There will be no cost to use Imagine Wellness services.

Pyskoty, a licensed clinical counselor who also has a Master’s in public health, is hopeful that Imagine Wellness will also serve as a key referral center to other new public behavioral health resources in the area. Bernalillo County has allocated over $28 million since 2018 to behavioral health infrastructure, including the state-of-the-art CARE CAMPUS in Central Albuquerque that treats patients from around the state and the soon-to-be-opened Crisis Triage Center at UNM Hospital.

While law enforcement is often involved in volunteering in the community—for instance, two Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies teach a parenting class at A. Montoya Elementary in Tijeras—Pyskoty agrees that “too much of the burden of our behavioral health deficiencies fall on law enforcement.” And that intervention comes after young people have been failed by our behavioral health system.

Pyskoty noted that early intervention with youth is crucial to curb self-destructive behaviors that can escalate to also harm others. “Kids in the East Mountains are very isolated,” she said. “Sometimes the first person to notice something is wrong with a child is someone at school—a teacher or counselor, and in general, out here they turn to law enforcement.”

The Imagine Wellness location is ideal. “It’s right behind our schools,” Pyskoty said. ”It’s a place where kids can go talk to someone, get some help and build resilience.”

We don’t have to look farther than the nightly news to see the link between behavioral health and violent crime.

That $28 million in county funding allocation for behavioral health is something Pyskoty wants addressed for the record. Progressive commissioners, Mayor Tim Keller and their supporters from outside our district are putting out a false narrative that Bernalillo County isn’t funding behavioral health. And there’s a progressive faction targeting Pyskoty in the primary.

Now, we in the East Mountains don’t vote in the Albuquerque mayor’s election, and I won’t be voting in the Democratic primary, but I don’t take kindly to a group of left-wing orthodox purists targeting a largely non-partisan elected official with a lie. Especially when that official is a highly responsive county commissioner who lives in the East Mountains and is working tirelessly to bring resources here to address one of the most basic root causes of violent crime: behavioral health.

With so much of unincorporated Bernalillo County in District 5, I would offer that the County Commission race is the closest thing we have to a municipal election. And some urban progressive elites who don’t live here are trying to hijack it.

Perhaps, if you haven’t been enthusiastic about the Democratic primary, or are a DTS voter, you might get excited about the county commissioner’s race here. Or, around the state, look at the county and town races if the statewide races have turned you off.

Who on the ballot is making changes that actually benefit your community instead of repeating partisan tropes? What happens if a solid local incumbent gets bumped off by a shrill extremist opponent spouting off on national issues that will never come up at the local level? These are questions I ask during every primary.

Access to behavioral health services in a rural area? In 2022? After Uvalde? It’s a pretty big freaking deal. I encourage you to vote locally, dear readers.