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City Program that Addresses Youth Mental Health Set to Expand

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Over the past year, the city has taken a new approach to addressing mental health issues with children, connecting schools with crisis units who swoop in and tend to a distressed child's needs. Now, the city is expanding the program. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Fourteen-year-old Louis Cerami started dealing with depression a few years ago.

"It felt like hell almost, I could say," Cerami says.

His school sent him to the hospital a few times to address his thoughts of suicide, but one night, things got really bad.

"Well my son was put on Zoloft and he was getting very, very anxious and something happened just to trigger him off and he, like, came after me," says Michele Cerami, Louis' mother.

Michele Cerami decided to call Lifenet to access the Bronx Children's Mobile Crisis Team—a service Louis' school suggested she use.

"We didn’t want to see him go through all those hospitalizations again because that wasn’t getting us any place, so this was a very wonderful resource," Michele Cerami says.

Within two hours, the Mobile Crisis Team called the Cerami's back.

The next morning, a psychiatric social worker and family advocate were at their door.

Over a period of eight weeks, they worked with Louis and his parents to get a diagnosis and connect them to long term mental health care, treating him in the interim—in part, by helping him to identify his triggers.

"Whether it’s the relationship with his parents, being anxious at school, his friends, or going back to the hospital. And then, recognizing that he already knew some of the coping mechanisms," says Eric Schlothan, a psychiatric social worker at Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

The Visiting Nurse Service of New York dispatches the teams—part of a contract with the City Health Department.

So far, 30 schools in the Bronx are part of the program, including The Cornerstone Academy for Social Action.

"They’re great in terms of de-escalation and serving as the facilitator and liaison between us and the families, or us and EMS," says Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School Principal Jamaal Bowman.

Principal Bowman says the program is a departure from the bureaucratic approach schools have traditionally taken when handling a child with mental health issues.

"If kids aren’t in a good place mentally and emotionally, they can’t concentrate on their school work and they come to school with a lot of the anxieties—the anger, the rage, and everything associated with the cycle of poverty—that you can see examples of it in not completing homework, and lateness, in attendance..." Bowman says.

The program is now expanding to Brooklyn and Queens schools this summer.

To reach a mobile crisis team in your area call 1-800-LIFENET.

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