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Bridging the Mental Health Gap

Continued partnerships bring resources to the Blackstone Valley – November 26, 2018

As the number of children and adolescents suffering from mental health illnesses grows, the number of mental health care providers and the amount of available financial resources do not. In an effort to close the gap in services, schools and local community health organizations have teamed up to research possible solutions, share resources, advocate for more government funding, and help as many children as possible.

BVT and Riverside Community Care have been partners through the school’s School Based Health Center for over a decade. Our students have daily access to on-site Riverside therapists during school hours. The counselors provide one-on-one counseling, emergency, and trauma services.

“We’re fortunate to have Riverside’s mental health counselors as part of our school community,” said Yvette Whitesell, Director of Student Support Services. “We’ve seen the number of students dealing with anxiety and depression increase over the years, so it’s important to have counselors available to help students cope and keep them safe.”

We’re fortunate to have the resources on campus to help our students, but not all schools or communities have the same services at their fingertips. The alternative is families are forced to contact their elected officials asking for help in accessing mental health resources for their children as child psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health counselors are rare in the Blackstone Valley, and those who do practice in the community often have extensive waiting lists. Educators, public policymakers, first responders, and community health organizations are concerned with the lack of services and are desperately working to find solutions to bridge the gap.

While we have continuously sought out research- based resources to help our students, Riverside Community Care has been on the forefront of researching and discussing solutions with other schools and community health care organizations. It sees a need for expanded mental health offerings in the Blackstone Valley and has proposed a plan to create an integrated behavioral health center on the Milford-Hopedale line that will increase its capacity to help children and adolescents.

As our students have greatly benefited from our partnership with Riverside, we are expanding our collaboration to bring the needed services to the community. We jointly hosted a Regional Forum that brought together doctors, counselors, psychologists, public policymakers, educators, and police to brainstorm additional solutions, discuss concerns, and share strategies.

“We’re proud to partner with Riverside and support their efforts to expand mental health services in the Blackstone Valley,” Whitesell said. “Since the forum, we’ve had several people reach out to us asking us for different resources we’ve developed for our students, and we’ve been glad to share.”

Among the resources shared are our custom-designed mental health initiatives, including a variety of mindfulness tools and social and emotional learning curriculum. The tools guide students through the different pressures they face daily and how those challenges interact with existing mental health illnesses. Our school counselors and special education staff assist students in navigating the complex teenage years and teach them the essential tools that support their personal and professional growth.

The supports range from voluntary programs, such as the Exploratory Lunch Group and Mindfulness Homeroom, to curriculum, such as the Break Free From Depression Curriculum and Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression.

The Exploratory Lunch Group helps students as they transition from their sending middle schools to our vocational high school by introducing them to one another and answering questions about the school and its culture. The Mindfulness Homeroom teaches students breathing and relaxation techniques to help them manage their anxieties and stress.

The Break Free from Depression curriculum is administered to each grade level during their academic schedules. The program is a preventative intervention tool designed to educate and support students in the face of emotional and psychological challenges. The Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression is administered to assess for depression and suicide risk, and to identify those students who may need to be referred for further evaluation by a doctor or mental health professional.

Together, all these services teach students healthy coping mechanisms, explain how to ask for help, and destigmatize the need for mental health services. These services are integral to our students’ successes and can be adapted to aid students outside of the school.

“It’s important that every child in the Blackstone Valley gets the support they need to be happy and healthy, so we’re proud to continue to work with Riverside and the community to do exactly that,” Whitesell said.