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Effort to boost access to mental health services on North Fork

Town and school officials on the North Fork will use $175,000 in state funding to improve access to mental health and suicide prevention services for local youths and their families as soon as this fall.

Southold Town and school officials said this week that they expect the North Fork Coalition — comprised of several local school districts, hospitals and social service agencies, among other entities — to start initial groundwork for mental health services for youths 18 and under in local schools.

North Fork residents often must travel farther west, to Stony Brook or Port Jefferson, for mental health treatment.

Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith said Thursday that the coalition hopes by September to hire a social worker to meet with all participating school districts about how to proceed with mental health crisis intervention in schools. The coalition will focus later on expanding the program to concentrate on mental health education and crisis prevention for local youths, Smith said.

According to the coalition’s December 2017 proposal for improving local mental health services, the North Fork had seen “a dramatic increase” in the need for intensive mental health services within their school districts. Further adding to the challenge was the “significant disconnect between the schools and hospitals,” the proposal read, which “negatively impacts a cohesive transition, a limited offering of appropriate support services and a lack of follow-through necessary for the student to move forward toward a healthy outcome.”

The North Fork program will be modeled to resemble a similar initiative on the South Fork after a rash of suicides among students years ago, according to Smith and Southold Town officials.

Each school district and town will also contribute funding to the initiative, Smith added.

“We would like this to grow into programs that are both preventative and educational . . . so that families can learn before anxiety hits,” Smith said.

The coalition will meet Friday to further discuss other aspects of rolling the program out, officials said.

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