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A partnership between McLean Hospital and Belmont High School (BHS) to help address the social and emotional needs of students has earned state and national recognition.
The Massachusetts Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Honor Society presented McLean and BHS with the Golden Torch Award in community service for launching the initiative.
BHS principal Dan Richards and psychologist Eileen Wiznitzer, PsyD, approached McLean two years ago to explore a partnership that would provide additional social and emotional support for students. “McLean was extremely responsive to our needs and has since volunteered to provide consultation services, a speaker series for parents, and training workshops for educators,” said Wiznitzer.
“There has been a growing population of adolescents and young adults who are presenting with psychiatric difficulties,” said Wiznitzer, noting that depression and anxiety are what educators see as most prevalent. “Not only are the numbers growing, but the degree of severity of some of the issues has increased. Simultaneously, a lot of the resources have been reduced, as there are fewer community mental health services and fewer state-funded facilities and state-funded resources.”
“There’s a lot of strain on schools to fill those holes in order to assist kids with emotional and social struggles,” she said. “There’s an enormous need, and McLean has stepped up to try and assist us.”
Diane Bedell, LICSW, program director of McLean’s Clinical Evaluation Center and Ambulatory Services who oversees the McLean-BHS initiative, said when the Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services moved in 2014 to the Sancta Maria Nursing Facility in Cambridge, being in close proximity to BHS presented the opportunity to respond to a growing need within the community.
“Soon after we moved, Belmont High reached out to us,” she said. “There is increasing recognition by communities and school systems about the growing mental health needs of students, not just here but globally. We decided to work on developing a partnership with the school system that would them help meet the needs of their students.”
To facilitate the BHS partnership, McLean hired Paulina Loo, MD, MPH, who has extensive experience developing school consultation services and previously served as the clinical director for the New York City Children’s Center, operated by the New York State Office of Mental Health. In addition to working with BHS, she is a psychiatrist with the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, which provides outpatient treatment services to children and adolescents.
“McLean is highly committed to providing services to Belmont High,” said Loo, who meets with Wiznitzer and other BHS staff on a regular basis. “This partnership exemplifies how mental health care organizations can successfully collaborate with school districts to help provide better resources for students as well as their families.”
McLean has so far provided a speaker series for parents, covering such topics as stress reduction and the mental health needs of students transitioning to college. The hospital has also made scholarship slots available to students who require intensive mental health services but whose families are not able to pay for services. In addition, mental health consultation has been offered to educators, helping them to gain a better understanding of psychiatric illness. Planning is currently underway for workshops that will help staff improve their skills in working with high-risk students struggling with mental health challenges.
“From my perspective, this is what’s so important—to try and change the trajectory of students who are experiencing emotional or mental health challenges,” said Loo. “My goal is to also provide services to the elementary school kids—to work with them in a setting that’s not stigmatized. We want to help kids to be healthier, earlier.”