Greenwich Parents Discuss Youth Mental Health Concerns

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A panel of guidance counselors from the Greenwich school district answers questions from a crowd of parents at a youth mental health panel discussion on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Eric Gendron

GREENWICH, Conn. – Since the tragedy in Newtown in December, the national conversation about mental health has accelerated greatly – and Greenwich parents hoping to join in on that conversation got a chance on Wednesday evening.

About 50 concerned parents filled the Greenwich High media center to discuss methods and ask questions about the mental health of children with a panel of social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors from each level of the Greenwich school system.

"Parents in the community came to the PTA asking to talk about the mental health of students in the community," Greenwich High Guidance Program Coordinator Judy Nedell said. "It was difficult to decide what the focus of this forum would be, but I think it brought up some very good concerns."

One of the most-talked about issues among the parents in attendance concerned how schools detect mental health issues and how to get the students' peers to be aware and supportive of those students in need.

"I definitely think that trying to get students connected to their community increases their academic success and builds self-esteem," Danielle Polizzi, a Greenwich High social worker, said. "And we try to connect them to something that they're interested in to try to bring them to a better place and to be connected to appropriate peers."

The counselors explained how Greenwich High tries to ward off bullying problems early by having incoming freshman discuss the issue in an annual assembly.

But if the mental health of students ever does become a concern, there are a series of safeguards the district has in place.

Greenwich High social worker Bill Quinn explained that the school has a "risk of violence assessment protocol" to decide whether action needs to be taken with a student of concern.

Quinn said in the five years since the system was implemented, it has only needed to be used "eight or nine times."

Nancy McGraw, a psychologist at Hamilton Avenue School, said that one of the simplest and most effective ways to help the mental health of children in the entire community is to talk with them about treating their peers equally, even when their peers seem different.

"I think sometimes we're desensitized to comments that are made or actions that are taken that could be hurtful," McGraw said. "Character building is key and there is a great opportunity even at the elementary level to appreciate differences."

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