How can Stamford help slow a growing mental health crisis? 20 local organizations hope to find a way.

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STAMFORD – In late 2021, after Caroline Simmons was elected mayor of the city, she held a series of advisory group meetings, including one that focused on youth mental health.

“The question has come up, ‘What can we do?

The ensuing discussion ultimately led to the creation of a new group, the Alliance for Youth Mental Health, a collaboration and partnership between more than 20 city organizations, including the Mayor’s Office, School District and the police department.

At a meeting of the group last week, member Lorraine Olson, chair of the Stamford Health Commission, said the group could have a major impact – if.

“If we can do all the work that we say we are doing, and all of these ideas are brought to fruition, Stamford will be front and center on the state map and everyone will be looking to us for ideas and looking to us to overcome the mental health crisis we are currently experiencing,” she said.

The group’s overarching goal is to tackle youth mental health issues through a community-based approach, its organizers said, in the hope that issues can be identified and addressed earlier than when students are in crisis.

The group has already started fundraising and has set a budget goal of $1.7 million over the next three years.

“The particular challenge of solving Stamford’s youth mental health crisis is that, while standard efforts are largely focused on providing clinical care in response to an identified need, a significant part of the care ecosystem – parents, caregivers, families, peers and community organizations – is left underutilized,” reads the summary.

Experts agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a national youth mental health crisis, with a huge spike in young people seeking clinical mental health support.

Staff at healthcare provider Family Centers, which runs centers at Stamford’s two largest high schools – Stamford High and Westhill – have reported an increase in anxiety and depression since the onset of the coronavirus.

“We’ve seen our numbers and demands for mental health services explode over the past two years,” said Bill Brucker, director of advancement for the healthcare provider, who said the organization has a list of patients seeking mental health services for the first time. times in the 16 years he has been with Family Centers.

“I kind of see this as the beginning of formulating a community response to the mental health crisis,” Brucker said of The Alliance.

The start of this school year at Stamford, when students resumed full-time in-person learning, also saw an increase in violent behavior, the data shows. In the two largest high schools in the city, fights between students led to around twenty arrests.

At Rippowam and Cloonan, several students were suspended for participating in a video “battle” that included footage of students using their hands to mimic firing a gun aimed at a camera. Later in the school year, a Cloonan student was seriously injured when he was allegedly attacked by five other students, all of whom were arrested.

Tufo said the alliance hopes to tackle mental health issues before they turn into a crisis.

“It really puts everyone in the tent,” Tufo said, describing the alliance’s strategy. “And I mean everyone.”

The collaboration includes Building One Community, Stamford Hospital, Community Health Centers, Domus Child and Family Centers, and other clinical and church providers.

Although still in its infancy, the alliance has already begun offering services including mental health first aid training and suicide guard training to groups; the idea, according to its creators, is to educate people to recognize the warning signs in young people.

So far, discussions among the group members have focused on an overview of the crisis, as well as the first ways to deal with it: training and public service campaigns, as well as screenings expanded mental health services and training those who work directly with at-risk students and families to identify and respond to signs of mental health problems. This could mean expanding clinical care and services in Stamford schools and school health centers.

The health care provider’s Community Health Center provides behavioral health support to elementary schools in Stamford, specifically Roxbury, Northeast, Springdale, Stark and Hart. A behavioral health clinician is assigned to each. The organization also has a presence inside the JM Wright Technical School in Stamford.

Family Centers also has a hub at Rippowam Middle School and Dolan Middle School. Another center exists in Cloonan.

The organization provides social workers to some schools: AITE, Stillmeadow Elementary School and Turn of River Middle School.

“Mental health issues have often been associated with stigma or seen as ‘someone else’s concern,'” reads the alliance’s summary. “The YMHA campaign will work to reframe that thinking and spur a community understanding and response to this pressing public health issue.”

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