NAMI-Champlain Valley Providing Mental Health Checkups to Two Area High Schools
Published: January 6, 2011
CVPH Foundation supports mental-health screening with grant
PLATTSBURGH — Students at two North Country high schools will continue to receive volunteer mental-health checkups through June 2012 thanks to an $8,600 grant from the Foundation of CVPH Medical Center.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness: Champlain Valley has been providing the service for students at Plattsburgh High School and Chazy Central Rural School for the past five years. The program, called Columbia University TeenScreen, is designed to help students who may have a mental illness find additional services to further assess and treat their condition.
Early Identification Key
"As we know through statistics, 1 in 4 Americans at some point in their lives suffer from mental illness," said Amanda Bulris, executive director of NAMI-CV. "Columbia TeenScreen focuses on early identification and may be able to prevent a more serious situation (such as suicide)."
Since its inception, the local program has screened more than 300 students. Of those, approximately 9 percent have been referred for further evaluation.
"We're trying to make (mental-health screening) a normal event, like checking eyesight or checking teeth," said May Anne Cox, a licensed clinical social worker who coordinates the TeenScreen program for NAMI. "The program has been very successful. We have received much positive feedback."
TeenScreen began as a pilot program for students in 9th, 10th and 12th grades at Plattsburgh High School and later expanded to Chazy to include a smaller, more rural school in the program.
"Students who have participated in the screenings seem to welcome the opportunity to talk about their anxieties, feelings and problems," Bulris said. "They benefit from the TeenScreen by being able to discuss their concerns and to receive positive feedback about their emotional well-being."
Consent forms are distributed to the parents of teens, and then students who return a consent form from home are contacted for possible screening. It is up to the student to provide final approval for the screening.
"Ninety-nine percent of students who have returned their parents' consent agree to the screening process," Cox said.
The screening takes about 10 minutes and identifies a list of symptoms that may suggest a potential mental illness.
"Several adolescents in our community have benefited from the program and are now getting treatment," said Sherrie Gillette, executive director of the Clinton County Community Services program. "Often mental disorders are the root cause for many problems such as decreased school performance and poor social functioning.
"Early identification through screening is key to improving the outcome of treatment and saving untold years of suffering.
Mike Zurlo, president of the Foundation of CVPH Board of Directors, said he was proud that the foundation was able to step in and financially support the program.
"It would have been a shame for this program not to continue," he said. "These young people are our future leaders. It's wonderful that we can identify some issues they may have, so that they can reach their potential and allow them to become more productive as adults."
The foundation feels strongly that TeenScreen plays a major role in improving the overall quality of health care in the community, he added.
Catherine Tallon, board president for NAMI-CV, said she was very pleased with the hospital's support for such programs as TeenScreen and believes early identification of mental illness is very important in preventing teen suicide.
Kerry Haley, executive director for the Foundation of CVPH, said that funding support for TeenScreen is a direct result of community support.
"Along with sponsoring hospital initiatives, each year the foundation identifies programs in our community that need funding and will better the health of the North Country," she said. "It is because of the community support we get that we are able to fund these types of programs."
According to estimates, more than 1 million teens in the United States suffer from depression, yet less than one-third receive help. For some, depression is so severe that it leads to suicide, the third-leading cause of teenage death.
Even with less severe forms, teen depression has been linked to poor academic performance, absenteeism, strained social relationships and substance abuse.