ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Yates County schools face a mental health crisis. School psychologist Christine Diamond says, “What I’ve experienced in the past 5 years has been sickening,” She was talking about the quality of mental health care she’s seen for children.
Diamond was in the Dundee school superintendent’s office for a large conference call between school officials in Yates County, state mental health administrators, and politicians.
Diamond said families drive long distances for meetings with a child psychiatrist. Then she says, they only spend a few minutes with doctors, who fail to provide proper care.
The push began in mid-January when Dundee superintendent Kelly Houck called the lack of access and the quality of mental health services for children and families as “unacceptable.”
“We can’t stand for it any longer, she said. “I’m fearful for my students but I’m also fearful for the community at large, because we all know what transpires when mental health needs are not met. And the aggression and the magnitude of the behaviors are continuing to increase at an alarming rate.”
The nearest hospital is Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Penn Yan. It recently announced plans to shut down their adult mental health unit. The state has to approve that. On the conference call, Yates County officials said Soldiers and Sailors Memorial should be adding child mental health services, not shutting down adult care.
Dundee Elementary school principal Laurie Hopkins-Halbert said she seeing more serious mental health problems at younger ages, beginning in kindergarten.
“Kids who are spitting in our faces,” said Hopkins-Halbert, “who are hiding under the table, who are destroying their entire classrooms and this is regularly, all day long.”
The suicide rate in Yates County is almost double that of New York state, according to Shannon Monnat, demographer and sociologist who specializes in public health at Syracuse University.
Monnat, who was not part of the conference call, said children today face three serious public health crises: death from drugs, alcohol and suicide. Over the last two decades, those deaths have increased nationwide. She said we need to listen to teachers. They see the big picture.
“That are not isolated, they’re not individual child problems,” she explained. “They’re much bigger societal issues that need to be addressed quickly or they’re going to manifest much more serious and then we’re going to be in big trouble not just now but in decades to come.”
Monnat works in Onondaga County which also sees more children show up at hospitals seeking mental health care.
The conference call ended without any plan for action. Instead, there are plans for a face-to-face roundtable discussion in Yates County. That hasn’t been scheduled.
Last August, a bill was introduced in Congress to fund mental health services in schools. Now, it has a new co-sponsor — Representative Tom Reed.