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School districts seek new approach to mental health treatment

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Albany/HV: School districts seek new approach to mental health treatment
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LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. -- Administrators at North Country school districts say the need for mental health services is greater than ever before.

"If we are not able to address the social and emotional well-being of the child, then we certainly can't teach them anything," said Francis Cocozza, principal of the Lake George Junior-Senior High School.

Cocozza is one of a growing number of North Country administrators whose students are relying more heavily on mental health services.

"These past few years, students have been coming to our door with emotional and mental health needs that are beyond the capacity of the district," Cocozza said Monday.

A 2012 study conducted by the Council for Prevention in Hudson Falls found a fifth of Washington County students surveyed felt depressed each day. Seven percent said they've attempted suicide within the past year.

"That is an alarming and concerning number,” said David Saffer, the Council for Prevention’s executive director. “We know the problems are getting greater, they're not getting less."

Similar to Lake George, most schools have only a handful of guidance counselors, a social worker and school psychologist. Private clinics are often only located in large population centers.

That's why many districts in Warren and Washington Counties are partnering with the Council for Prevention to find a way to put outpatient mental health clinics right in local schools.

"Geographically, we have been underserved," Saffer said.

Few expect opening a clinic to be easy. It would likely require considerable funds and the partnership of numerous districts, county or state governments and private healthcare providers, which would supply the staff.

"Maybe one district provides the facilities and then multiple districts can have access to that facility," said Cocozza, who’s been at the district for eight years.

"It's not something that's going to happen overnight," Saffer said.

Partners have been working on this effort since last Fall. For struggling children and their families, administrators say the impact could be a matter of life and death.

"If you can gain access for at least one child or one family, then you have accomplished what we are trying to do," Cocozza said.

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