Town hall event planned to raise awareness for mental health services

Two years ago, North Fork school districts partnered with local hospitals, elected officials and the Family Service League to form the North Fork Coalition for Behavioral Health.

The collaboration was formed to improve students’ access to mental health services, which historically had been geographically limited. Families on the North Fork often had to travel west to Mather Hospital or Stony Brook University hospitals for treatment.

In October, the coalition is planning to hold a town hall event to raise awareness about what services are available to those in need, former Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith explained during a Town Board work session Tuesday.

She said that while the initiative is led by local school districts, she wants to bring it to a wider view.

“My goal is to pull it out so we really see this as a community effort,” Ms. Smith said.

The forum will feature brief presentations by regional providers of mental health and substance use treatment, a Q&A session and resource tables.

“It’s an opportunity for anyone who interacts with children, families, employees or adults in need of either mental health evaluations, services, prevention or substance abuse disorder support to hear five-minute quick overviews of what services we have,” Ms. Smith said.

She also hopes to get feedback from community members on what mental health services the group can be advocating for that are not offered locally.

The recently finalized merger between Eastern Long Island Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital is exciting, she said, because it will expand necessary services to the North Fork.

She said new technology, such as telepsychiatry, could be used along with services such as DASH, or Diagnostic, Assessment and Stabilization Hub, a crisis center that opened earlier this year in Hauppauge.

County officials have expressed interest in opening a similar facility in eastern Suffolk County.

Councilman Bill Ruland said he fully supports their mission.

“This came out of a crisis,” Mr. Ruland said. “It has made and is making a difference,” noting that the program was modeled after the success of a similar initiative rolled out on the South Fork in 2014.

Mr. Ruland said the challenge moving forward is ensuring permanent funding for the program.

The first phase of the program in 2018 was funded by a $235,000 state grant secured by lawmakers Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) with assistance from South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), plus funding from the two North Fork towns and seven school districts.

All agreed that it’s necessary to equip community members with the tools to respond to mental health issues.

“One of the reasons for this forum is to keep getting the word out to everybody: there is help available,” said Denis Noncarrow, the town’s government liaison officer.

The forum will be held Thursday, Oct. 3, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Southold Recreation Center on Peconic Lane. Those interested in attending are asked to register online here.

“My hope is to have a cross section of community members in the same room publicly stating that they care about this,” Ms. Smith said. “We need to get rid of the stigma of people asking for help.”

Photo caption: Denis Noncarrow and Anne Smith at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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