With teen suicide and substance abuse escalating concerns,
there’s a need to erase the stigma in asking for help, officials say.
By Lisa Finn, Patch Staff
Sep 10, 2019 4:36 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2019 4:39 pm ET
SOUTHOLD, NY — On World Suicide Prevention Day, Southold Town officials are joining forces to help shine a light on the need for an increase in mental health services for families and young people
Dr. Anne Smith and Denis Noncarrow, Southold Town government liaison, spoke with the Southold Town board at their work session Tuesday about an event scheduled by the North Fork Coalition for Behavioral Health. “A North Fork Town Hall Forum: Improving Access to Services for Families and Youth,” will be held on Thursday, Oct. 3 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Southold Recreation Center, located at 970 Peconic Lane in Peconic.
Those in attendance will be able to meet with regional providers for the treatment and prevention of mental health issues and substance use disorders; collaborate with local school districts, as well as town, county and state officials to advocate for enhanced services for families and individuals on the North Fork; engage in a question and answer session; and avail themselves of resource tables.
At the work session, Smith and Noncarrow said the meeting was a way for organizations to come together and detail what they could offer young people and their families in regard to behavioral issues. In additions, they said there has been effort to spotlight communication and “lower the stigma” long associated with asking for help with mental health concerns.
“This forum is another way to get the word out that there are many methods of help out there and it’s easy to ask,” Noncarrow said.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the forum was “a vitally important initiative for a young population who need assistance but, who have been under-served in the past.”
In April, Noncarrow and Smith also met with the town board to discuss state funding for mental health initiatives, including a request for “immediate compassionate crisis intervention and followup” for young people and school-aged children.
The North Fork’s program, they said, was modeled after the South Fork’s program for youth in crisis. In crisis situations, Smith said, “lowering the amount of waiting time is key to the children.”Area schools, they said, had been meeting with representatives of Family Service League; the goal was to inform the public that enhanced services were available on the North Fork. Being able to have a counselor available to a student in need within a day is critical, they agreed.
Smith said she was approached by New York State Senator Ken LaValle to participate in the North Fork Coalition for Behavioral Health; the goal, she said, was embracing the concept of an integrated delivery of services, with social workers present in pediatricians’ offices. Physiological and social issues are not separate situations medically, she said.
“One of our goals is to get the stigma reduced and step in before the crisis,” Smith said. “We want to have compassionate support teams ready to go.”
“There was a time when there was nowhere to turn to get help,” Southold Town Councilman Bob Ghosio said. “Here’s an opportunity to get help out here.” In the past, those opportunities were “few and far between” and students had to head west for services. The vision is to see a mental health center in Riverhead, Noncarrow said. Smith pointed to the new diversity center that opened this year in Hauppauge.
The ideas, she said, is to “stem the flow away from the hospital experience, which is somewhat traumatic,” and provide immediate intervention services close to home.
“This is probably one of the most important initiatives we’ve undertaken,” Russell said. In 2018, with teen drug use and suicide an escalating concern on the North Fork, funding was secured to help bolster the town’s youth mental health initiative.
According to New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo and New York State Senator Ken LaValle, that newly approved New York State budget included $350,000 in funding to provide mental health service on both the North and South Forks — with the two coalitions that have been formed to provide mental health services across the Forks each receiving $175,000 in state support.
“Throughout my tenure one of my top priorities has been working to ensure access to quality, affordable health and mental health services on the East End of Long Island,” LaValle said. New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and he joined with a group of professionals from across the South Fork to work toward providing a network of available services for the community, LaValle said.
“Recognizing the growing need to help schools confront mental health issues, I, along with Assemblymen Palumbo and Thiele, convened a group of North Fork school leaders, government officials from all levels, local hospitals and regional counseling services to discuss how best to develop a structure and plan to support our young people struggling with mental health disorders, anxiety, depression and addiction,” LaValle said.
LaValle said he and Palumbo “fought hard” during budget negotiations and were successful in having $175,000 in funding included for each group, including $175,000 for the North Fork, in the 2018 to 2019 budget.
“This critical funding will ensure that a plan is in place to immediately support our young people in a time of crisis, and build a local support network equipped to deliver immediate, affordable follow up services on both the South and North Forks,” LaValle said. Palumbo, who lives in New Suffolk was thrilled with the victory. “This year we secured over $175,000 in funding for the North Fork mental health initiative which will help provide school counselors for our students.”
And in early 2017, Southold Town announced great strides to address mental health issues close to home. For years, teens in crisis have had to travel long distances to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment — but the time for a satellite office that could help provide immediate support right in Southold Town had come, officials said. At a town board work session, Noncarrow said the goal was to set up a satellite office locally that can help in times of crisis and serve as a preventative measure, too.
“Teens 18 years old and under on the North Fork have a huge problem finding mental health care,” Noncarrow said. “It’s been a challenge through the years.”
After the South Fork was faced with tragedy and teen suicide, New York State provided funding for mental health services, Noncarrow said. LaValle, Noncarrow said, was onboard with helping to secure similar funding for the North Fork. Lynn Nyilas, Southold Town’s Youth Bureau Director, said when the South Fork was faced with teen suicides, Family Service League set up a satellite office with funding so parents were able to find help and support immediately without having to “jump through as many hoops.”
Having to travel to Stony Brook University Hospital in a crisis situation, where every minute counts, can be “traumatic”, Noncarrow said. A mental health clinic close to home can help provide immediate support — a “wonderful thing, comforting to parents”, he said. Nyilas said experts would be trained to spot signs of suicidal behavior; she received safeTALK training to detect suicidal behavior and said that training is free and can be provided by Family Service League. Those safeTALK sessions have been presented by the town to residents.
The time is now to bring mental health services for teens close to home, Nyilas said. “We have been historically underserved on the North Fork,” she said.
To register for the upcoming forum, contact Jennifer Rylott at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 631-749-0302 ext. 143; or Dr. Lisa Simonetti at email@example.com or by phone at 631-765-5400.
If you are interested in having a resource table at the event, contact Shari Sontoriello at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 631-288-9505.