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Expanding Mental Health Resources for Adolescents

As the number of children and adolescents suffering from mental health illnesses grows, the number of mental health care providers and the amount of financial resources available

to them does not. To help close the gap, schools and local community health organizations have teamed up to research possible solutions, share resources, advocate for more government funding, and help as many children as possible.

Blackstone Valley Tech and Riverside Community Care have been partners through the school's School Based Health Center for over a decade. Valley Tech students have access to on-site Riverside therapists during school hours each day. The counselors are able to provide direct counseling, emergency, and trauma services.

"We are fortunate to have Riverside's mental health counselors as part of our school community," said Yvette Whitesell, Director of Student Support Services at BVT. "We've seen the number of students dealing with anxiety and depression increase over the years, so it's important to us to have our Riverside counselors available to help students cope and keep them safe."

While BVT is fortunate to have this resource on campus, not all schools or communities have the same experience. Families are contacting their elected officials looking for help in accessing mental health resources for their children as professionals are rare in the Blackstone Valley area, and those who do practice in the community often have extensive waiting lists. Educators, public policymakers, first responders, and community health organizations are concerned with the gap in services and are desperately working to find solutions. Riverside Community Care has been on the forefront of researching and discussing solutions with other community health care organizations and schools. It sees a need for expanded mental health offerings in the Blackstone Valley area and has proposed a plan to create an integrated behavioral health center on the Milford-Hopedale line that will increase its capacity to help children and adolescents.

As Blackstone Valley Tech students have greatly benefited from a decades-long partnership with Riverside, the school is expanding its collaboration to bring the needed services to the community. "BVT is proud to partner with Riverside and support their efforts to expand mental health services and providers in the Blackstone Valley area," Whitesell said. As part

of their efforts to expand services in the community, Riverside and BVT partnered to host a Regional Forum that brought together doctors, counselors, psychologists, public policymakers, educators, and police officers to brainstorm additional solutions, discuss concerns, and

share strategies. "Since the forum, we've had several people reach out to us asking us for different resources we've developed for our students, and we've been glad to share," Whitesell said. Among the resources shared are BVT-developed mental health initiatives, including a variety of mindfulness tools and social and emotional learning curriculum and more. BVT students have access to and participate in these programs during their school day in addition to participating in the Break Free from Depression curriculum and screening. These services are aimed at teaching students healthy coping mechanisms and destigmatizing the need for mental health services. At the conclusion of the regional forum, participants agreed to meet again in the spring to share resources with each other and discuss additional solutions.

"It's important to us that every child in the Blackstone Valley area gets the support they need to be happy and healthy, so we're proud to continue to work with Riverside and the community to do exactly that," Whitesell said.




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