Students Growing Mental Health and Wellness Needs
By Rina Beder
Rates of anxiety and depression in the student population have steadily increased over the past ten years, a trend accelerated and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The “mental health crisis” is further exacerbated by not having enough trained therapists or in-patient facilities throughout communities nationwide.
At the November 8 program of the Larchmont Mamaroneck Local Summit program, representatives from the local school districts and the Larchmont Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center discussed how they are addressing the mental health and wellness needs of students at the secondary level and in the community. This includes providing parents, students, and staff with tools to address their own mental wellness as well as school-based, targeted therapeutic interventions.
Wil Siegel, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services in the Rye Neck school district, stressed the importance of integrating the language of mental wellness into all content areas and helping students develop developmentally appropriate skills. Siegel highlighted the year-old Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) program and voluntary freshman transition/orientation program that offers students coping skills.
Rye Neck plans to expand upon the work of its Social Emotional Wellness Curriculum Steering Committee, which will be exploring an intervention model that works with social and emotional wellness.
Cindy McKean, Supervisor of Out-of -District Placements and Drs. Storey Trush and Venessa Green-Davis, Mamaroneck school district psychologists, introduced a sampling of mental wellness and therapeutic programs in the district and spoke about two specific therapeutic focused programs serving primarily general education students: the Emotional Support Program (ESP) and the Hommocks Middle School Learning Hub (HUB).
ESP serves school avoidant and emotionally fragile middle and high school students, as well as students transitioning back to school from hospitalizations and other intensive mental health therapeutic programs. These students typically exhibit heightened anxiety and/or mood disorders.
The high school ESP began 6 years ago under the leadership of Dr. Trush and the success of the program led to the establishment this year of a middle school program, led by Dr. Green- Davis.
Staff for this collaborative program work closely with students, their outside support teams and parents and provide appropriate therapeutic and academic support, thereby enabling students to remain in the community and participate in the life of their schools as much as they are able. Interventions differ from student to student but the ultimate goal is full engagement back in the school building.
Since the start of the ESP high school program six years ago, the speakers noted that the emotional instability of students had markedly increased. The program is even more vital now as some partial day programs shut down due to COVID restrictions and other treatment programs lack room. “To be there as a safety net for these students has been absolutely invaluable” said Dr. Trush.
The Hommocks Middle School Learning Hub resulted from the work of the Mamaroneck district’s Crisis Team formed during the pandemic. The HUB provides skill classes and DBT for students who struggle with regular attendance and are faced with additional home stressors.
The support provided by both ESP and HUB programs have enabled students to regularly attend school and access needed support. Happily, most of the students in the programs are at 100% attendance although some of them previously had 60 or more absences throughout the school year.
Another important mental health resource for local students and families is the Larchmont Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center (LMCCC), located on Stanley Avenue. The LMCCC is comprised of 14 professionals and was established by the Mamaroneck school district and the tri-municipalities (the Town of Mamaroneck and the villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck). In addition to individual and group therapy, therapists from the LMCCC work with Mamaroneck schools and provide additional counselor support. Clinical director Alan Dienstag stressed that “there is also a huge prevention piece that fits nicely with all the programming the schools are doing.”
LMCCC staff are also focusing on infusing the community with skills that help adults — and ultimately their children. For example, the Parent Center provides curriculum-based training for parents and offers between 12 and 20 talks each year. Recently, it has broadened its reach to offer a series of conversations in local churches and synagogues open to all community members.
When asked about the stigma attached to discussing mental wellness and health, the speakers all agreed that the level of stigma has significantly decreased. As Mr. Siegel noted, “it has become safer and more acceptable to be honest in your struggles. And I think that’s helpful”.
Community members can contact the LMCCC by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 914-698-7549.
The Larchmont Mamaroneck Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make a better life for the community by keeping it informed of major issues of concern. The next Zoom program, co-hosted with LMC Media, will be on Tuesday, December 6 at 8:00 am and will feature County Executive George Latimer. Visit the Local Summit online: https://www.localsummitlm.org/ . LMCMedia: https://lmcmedia.org/ .