Schools, hospital unite on teen mental-health issues

Heavy mental: Teenagers face plenty of social stresses -- now, those in Bellmore-Merrick schools have a helping hand.

In an era of unprecedented social pressures, one Long Island school district is teaming up with a local hospital to provide critical mental-health services for students.

Amityville-based South Oaks Hospital, part of the Northwell Health system, has partnered with the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District to offer mental-health services to more than 5,000 students in grades seven through 12.

Through the program, South Oaks Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Sharon Skariah provides “psychiatric consultations” and otherwise “offers educational support to the district’s psychology team,” Northwell Health said, primarily through one-on-one work with students during weekly visits to one of the district’s six buildings.

Access to South Oaks resources has also helped school district social workers better understand how to direct students in need toward the proper mental-health services, with South Oaks providing timely access to both hospital and external resources.

Students requiring hospitalization will even benefit from a “discreet ambulance” provided by Northwell Health’s Center for Emergency Medical Services, the health system added.

And South Oaks Hospital is also providing “quarterly education” for district faculty on such issues as suicide-risk assessment – all part of a larger effort to “provide the best psychological services for the students,” according to New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health.

Brian Pritchard: “Rewarding” results.

With teenagers “facing many different social pressures from various directions” and “working through all of the changes that go along with puberty,” the mental-health program plays a critical role, according to Licensed Clinical Social Worker Brian Pritchard, associate executive director of South Oaks Hospital.

“Through this partnership with the Bellmore-Merrick School District, we’re able to provide services and resources to these students,” Pritchard said Wednesday. “It’s so rewarding to see.”

The program, which officially launched in January, is off to a fast start: Some 25 students from Merrick, Bellmore and surrounding hamlets have already benefitted from South Oaks services “in various capacities,” according to Northwell Health.

The services are already making “a major difference for our students and the school district,” according to Eric Arlin, director of special education and pupil personnel services for Bellmore-Merrick schools.

“Prior to working with South Oaks Hospital, one of our biggest frustrations was trying to connect students and families with the mental-health services they needed in a timely manner,” Arlin said in a statement. “Our staff and families found there would be roadblocks to services, ranging from not taking a person’s insurance to being unaffordable to not being able to help a student in a timely fashion.

“But now, a process that could sometimes take years is completed within a week.”