North Fork Embarks on School Mental Health Initiative

Kids crying on the soccer field at hulling night circa 1994. Kurt Cobain had just died.

Thanks to funding from New York State, high school students on the South Fork have had access for the past four years to counselors from the Family Service League who are available to them in times of crisis.

This fall, North Fork students will also have access to these services, after Southold Town and the schools within the township asked the state to help fund counselors here.

New York State Senator Ken LaValle spearheaded the grant effort, along with local lawmakers, ultimately helping get $175,000 in funding to pay Family Service League therapists.

“The Town of Southold recognizes that our partnership with the schools to support this initiative is beneficial for both the families and community of Southold as a whole,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

Family Service League President & CEO Karen Boorshtein said the project has been “tremendously successful” on the South Fork, and she’s looking forward to the North Fork expansion.

“Sometimes we have someone based at the school, and they can call us to get a social worker down to the school quickly,” said Ms. Boorshtein, who added that Family Service League is still working out the details of how the program will operate on the North Fork.

“This gives us the ability to have more staff available, and we can help get a social worker there quickly,” she said of the funding. “We can have the youth and a family member meet with a social worker or do a psychiatric consultation over the telephone…. Mental heath crises for adolescents have to be taken very seriously.”

The South Fork Mental Health Initiative came about after several suicides among teenagers there, and Ms. Boorshtein said FSL understands the urgency of intervening in situations on teenagers’ behalves before they attempt to take their own lives.

Family Service League has been offering a training session known as SafeTALK, in which community members and students can learn how to recognize the signs that someone is suicidal, and develop an effective strategy to help the person get help, throughout the East End in recent years.

In an acute crisis, Ms. Boorshtein said students should feel free to talk with any trusted adult in their school environment — whether they are a teacher, a social worker or a guidance counselor — and that person will be trained in how to find them the help they need.

“If the teacher they trust is not in and they really need help, there are lots of people at any school who are willing to help make that call,” she said. “Our hope is to prevent a crisis before it happens. We want to be there, in advance, before a youngster says ‘I can’t take it. I just don’t want to live.’”

Ms. Boorshtein, whose administrative offices are in Huntington, said the need for mental health services is great all over Suffolk County, but “on the East End, there are less resources. There aren’t as many not-for-profits there doing mental health services.”

“We have seven different mental health clinics, and teenagers have problems whether in they live in Huntington, Riverhead or Mattituck,” she says. “But there are fewer resources out there and this helps expand the pool of resources.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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