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South Oaks Hospital expands mental health program for schools

"Being at a child's school so we are

"Being at a child's school so we are readily accessible for our adolescents has made a huge difference," said Dr. Sharon Skariah, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at South Oaks. Credit: Northwell Health

Amityville-based South Oaks Hospital has expanded its school program to provide mental health services to children at seven Long Island school districts.

The program, which was first piloted with the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, has expanded to include Merrick, Hicksville, Levittown, Long Beach, Plainedge and Comsewogue school districts and covers children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Northwell Health-operated hospital offers districts access to child and adolescent psychiatrists, who  provide behavioral health consultations and offer educational support to the districts' psychology teams, officials said.

“Being at a child’s school so we are readily accessible for our adolescents has made a huge difference in their mental health and well-being,” said Dr. Sharon Skariah, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at South Oaks. “Now students who might wait months for an appointment can be seen in the schools and then linked to ongoing outpatient therapy and medication management much more quickly. Seeing a psychiatrist in their building one-on-one also helps families and students feel more comfortable with the idea of seeing a behavioral health professional, helping to reduce the stigma.”

South Oaks provides quarterly education for school staff members about issues such as suicide risk assessment. This program helps school social workers to better understand how to direct students toward appropriate mental health services.

Hospital representatives make calls to find the kind of assistance a student needs in a timely manner; sometimes those services are provided at South Oaks. 

The hospital hopes to expand the program to 12 school districts by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

For information, call Bradley Lewis at South Oaks Hospital at 631-608-5727.

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