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Mental Health

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Superintendent's Council creates 31-minute video to share with their peers

Kings Park student members of the Superintendent's Council stand with school staff and elected officials. Photo from Kings Park school district

By Amanda Perelli

Kings Park students are going digital in the national debate of mental health awareness to raise awareness among their peers and inform community leaders.

Students in Kings Park school district worked to create a nearly 31-minute video to spread mental health awareness in the community and with elected officials.

The Superintendent’s Council, a group of more than 30 Kings Park students from grades four through 12. The council is made up of approximately four students per grade, who are elected by their peers in fourth grade and remain a part of the council through graduation.

“We got to talk about mental health, a big conversation not only in Kings Park, but all around the country.”
– Timothy Eagen

Timothy Eagen, superintendent of Kings Park school district, said that this year’s council was focused on mental health. The students invited Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) to a council meeting in March, where he spoke about his role in local government. As a result of that meeting, council members decided to create a video covering stress and anxiety; vaping, smoking, and substance use/abuse; and online safety to raise awareness of mental health in the community.

“They are just a great group of student leaders that I use to bounce ideas off of and pick their brain and insight on a student perspective,” Eagen said. “We got to talk about mental health, a big conversation not only in Kings Park, but all around the country.”

The students filmed themselves, teachers and their classmates in the district for the video. Several Kings Park staff members who assisted include district Assistant Superintendent Ralph Cartisano; Rudy Massimo, principal of R.J.O. Intermediate School; Ken Ferrazzi, assistant principal at William T. Rogers Middle School; and Danielle Thompson, technology integration specialist, helped the students create the video which was filmed on iPhones and iPads. Thompson then edited and pieced together the footage using iMovie.

“If we can get the students to share what they are experiencing, just encourage them to speak about it… maybe we can save a life or two.”
– Rudy Massimo

“We broke it into different groups and being that I am one of the participants of the Superintendents Council, I worked with middle school students on drug and alcohol abuse, including vaping,” Massimo said.

The entire video, from the script to where they filmed, was driven by the students. They filmed parts in areas of the building where students might go to do things against school policy, including the stairwells, bathrooms and basement. They used their smartphones to gather information and read off of them like a script. Throughout filming, the students had one goal to get their peers to listen, according to Massimo.

“Mr. Trotta was the first audience that the kids had to show off their video, Eagen said. “We have it posted to our website and we’ve also shared it with our elected officials, so they can best understand how our students are feeling.”

The principal of R.J. O Intermediate said he has plans to show pieces of the video in the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms next year.

“What the kids say is that they are tired of the same kind of information coming to them,” said Massimo. “If they hear it from their peers, it means more.”

Thank you, mental health workers. If it weren’t for you, we might be living with even more unimaginable tragedies.

For reasons most of us, fortunately, can only imagine at a distance, people are tormented by destructive urges. When these moments arise, hopefully, a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or someone in a position to recognize the signs can step in and offer support, while redirecting that person toward a course of action that’s safer for them and for society.

Much of the time, we don’t see the people who soothe the minds. When they do their job well, the sun rises in the morning, we send our children to school, we clap at the end of their concerts and we feed them their meals before sending them to bed for the night.

When I was in junior high school, I read books such as “Lord of the Flies” and “The Crucible,” which my teacher Mrs. Wickle suggested were an important way to look at the “dark side” of the heart.

At the time, I found the subjects depressing and unnecessary. Why, I thought, did I have to read about such violence or mass hysteria.

In the modern world, we are in the crosshairs of everything from overseas terrorists to storms and earthquakes and, yes, to people without an apparent ideology whose final act before they take their own lives is to commit mass murder.

We look at the faces of the victims and feel the loss of those we never met. They look like our friends and neighbors, and we know their smiles, once filled with potential, will never again light up a room.

At the same time, hundreds of people lined up for hours to do what they could — give blood — to help save those in immediate need.

Clearly, a few people in our midst have headed toward the dark side of their hearts and minds, allowing the demons that plague their lives to release the unthinkable and unimaginable.

Maybe, in addition to the discussion about gun control, we ought to appreciate the legion of mental health professionals who dedicate themselves to helping those battling against destructive urges, whose thoughts wander into the wilderness of despair.

The toll their work often takes on some of these mental health helpers is enormous, as other people’s nightmares leap from the minds of their patients into their own subconscious. The flow of information travels both ways, putting psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers at risk.

These mental health workers often talk to others in their field to help them get through the difficulties of their jobs.

They listen, they encourage, they become involved and, ultimately, they can and so often do set people on better courses in their lives, helping them feel better and live better.

By the time you read this, perhaps we’ll have an idea of what triggered the madness from this latest gunman, and maybe it will have less to do with off-the-rails thinking than with an ideology that encourages mass violence.

If it wasn’t lone-wolf insanity, but, rather, someone following instructions, we ought to find the ones who encouraged these senseless and brutal murders.

Either way, we ought to dedicate more resources to battling with the burden of a broken brain. If, somehow, a mental health professional can redirect someone who might otherwise commit incomprehensible violence, that person not only has saved a life but may have turned a would-be murderer into another conscientious citizen lining up for hours to give blood instead of planning to spill it.

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CN Guidance & Counseling Services is setting up shop at Horizons Counseling & Education Center on Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Jared Cantor

The fight against drug abuse has a new home in Smithtown.

In response to a multiyear surge of heroin and opiate pill use across the North Shore and greater Long Island, CN Guidance & Counseling Services, which works on addressing substance use and mental health disorders, has launched outpatient detoxification and withdrawal support services to residents of Smithtown.

Two new sites — one at Horizons Counseling & Education Center at 161 East Main St. in Smithtown and the other at CN Guidance’s main office at 950 S. Oyster Bay Road in Hicksville — have begun delivering a combination of services to local residents addicted to opiates. The services, supported by funds from both county governments, include assessment, detoxification, symptom relief with addiction medications, monitoring of vital signs and instant connection to longer-term treatment and relapse prevention.

Heroin killed a record-high 144 people on Long Island in 2013, a death toll increasing 91 percent in Nassau County and 163 percent in Suffolk County since just 2010, CN said in a statement. Opioid pills, including oxycodone, were linked to 343 additional deaths on Long Island in 2012 and 2013.

“We are filling a critical gap,” said Jeffrey Friedman, chief executive officer of CN Guidance. “The havoc connected to untreated opiate addiction on Long Island has been slicing through our Long Island families and communities. These new outpatient detoxification and support services are enabling opiate-addicted individuals — and their families — to receive the help they need immediately, with no lag in connection to the longer-term treatment and recovery services they need after detoxification. If you know someone in need, please call us.”

During a studied nine-month period in 2013, 4,409 individuals requested detoxification services in Nassau County, but only 26 percent, or 1,157, were actually admitted, according to Nassau County’s Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services. Suffolk County struggles analogously.

Data from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services show that 85 percent of detoxification in New York State is done in hospitals, often with long waits, at high costs and lacking results, whereas other states use such hospital-based detoxification primarily for medically or psychiatrically complicated cases. The new outpatient programs offer an alternative for the many residents who face mild to moderate severity of withdrawal from opiates, rather than severe withdrawal most commonly associated with emergency-level crises.

Because CN Guidance is a comprehensive behavioral health services provider that offers full-service care coordination, it is able to link clients in the new outpatient programs immediately to a whole array of often- needed services ranging from mental health counseling and treatment to long-term substance use treatment.

Residents and other service providers in either county may call 516-822-6111 to accesDs the program.

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Medical experts offer ways to stay on top of mental health

By Lisa Steuer

While the holidays are typically viewed as a happy time, the season can also bring many challenges and stresses that aren’t as common during the rest of the year.

When it comes to the holidays, the combined influence of lack of sunlight as well as the stresses of the holiday season can result in poor mental and emotional health, said Dr. Laura Kunkel, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

“The media makes it seem like a very happy time … and then people wind up feeling guilty if they’re not happy,” said Kunkel.

One stress that people face during the holidays is getting together with family members with whom they may be estranged from or not get along.

“It’s important for people to be mindful of when they’re going overboard to please others, and the holidays particularly puts people at risk for this if they have a pattern of wanting to please others,” said Kunkel. “People should kind of step back and be mindful to their own physical needs and take care of their health during this time and recognize when they might be giving too much.”

A particular challenge that some people may face during the holidays is how to deal with family members with addiction. “Sometimes I recommend that people go to a public place to have a holiday dinner, rather than in someone’s home, and obviously make sure that the person with addiction has transportation.”

When it comes to the holidays, the combined influence of lack of sunlight as well as the stresses of the holiday season can result in poor mental and emotional health. — Dr. Laura Kunkel, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine

People who have lost a relative or someone close to them can find the holidays particularly painful.

“One way to kind of let the grieving process go quickly is to talk about the person and to talk about the memories, and even though it may bring up tears, it’s part of the healing process,” said Kunkel.

For someone who has lost a child, however, it can be quite different. “Old customs may be too painful, and there might need to be some changes,” said Kunkel, adding that some people suffering such a loss choose to travel during the holidays, for instance.

And in the age of social media, try to focus on the moment at hand instead of constantly checking your phone and looking at what everyone else is doing.  “Put the media down and enjoy with the people who are there,” said Kunkel.

In addition, after the hubbub of the holidays, people tend to feel empty and bored in January, Kunkel added. “January is a good time to make sure your social calendar has things set up.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is estimated that 10 million Americans are affected with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and that another 10 to 20 percent may have a mild case of SAD, which is a type of depression that is related to the change in seasons and lack of light. Anyone can be affected — those with a history of depression and even those without. Here are five tips from Ramin Parsey M.D., Ph.D., chair, Department of Psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

  1. Get plenty of exercise.  Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
  2. Keep up with social activities. When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social, but making an effort to connect with people that you enjoy being around can give you a boost. Staying connected to friends and loved ones can offer support and give you something else to think about other than the weather.
  3. Keep on the bright lights. Light therapy is often used to treat SAD, and those lights mimic the natural outdoor light, which appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Also think about opening the blinds or sitting closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
  4. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Melatonin, a hormone that controls the natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours, could fluctuate during the shorter winter days, causing disruptions to sleep patterns and mood.
  5. Speak to your health care provider. Your doctor can make the proper assessment and give you an accurate diagnosis. He or she can also recommend the right form of treatment.

Eight affordable rental housing parcels in the works

Veterans roll up a flag at a press conference on the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative. The county Legislature will vote on a measure to transfer properties to create affordabe housing for homeless veterans at its Sept. 9 meeting. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County has gained some footing in the war against veteran homelessness.

Last week, officials announced a proposal to transfer eight tax-defaulted properties over to nonprofit groups that will be charged with developing them into rental housing for homeless veterans or those who are at risk of becoming homeless. The units will be overseen and managed by the non-profit organizations.

The move is part of the Housing our Homeless Heroes legislative initiative, a package of four bills sponsored by Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Officials say there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

In a phone interview on Monday, Stern said the county Legislature would vote on the transfer of the properties at its Sept. 9 meeting. He said he expects the resolution, which he is co-sponsoring with County Executive Steve Bellone (D), to gain unanimous support.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said in addition to housing resources, the veterans will receive additional services through these nonprofits, such as job training and placement; primary and mental health care; disability management and health care coordination; family counseling; financial training and substance abuse services.

“The Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative is the housing part of providing assistance to our veterans and families,” Stern said. “But it can never be just about four walls and a roof.”

Once transferred, the nonprofits would foot the construction bill through roughly $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

The Legislature approved the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative last year, and Bellone signed the legislation into law just days before Christmas. The four laws tackle the issue of veteran homelessness from different angles — one establishes a partnership between agencies and community advocates that serve veterans and their families and helps them set up an informational web portal on the county’s website to direct them to services available across all levels of government and within the nonprofit sector. Another maximizes access to available housing for veterans. The third amended the county’s human rights law by adding veterans as a group of individuals protected against discrimination in housing and employment opportunities. The last bill will require a veteran services officer to work at the county’s Department of Social Services on a regular basis. The officers must be veterans as well, in order to establish a peer-to-peer relationship between those they are helping.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” Michael Stoltz, chief executive officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

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