On March 29, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District hosted the second Nassau County Youth Wellness Summit, welcoming teens and educators from 27 school districts across the county, including Seaford High School. Those in attendance learned how to combat anxiety, improve self esteem, and learn coping skills, among many other things, at the all-day event which featured panels, workshops and presentations from professionals and educators working in the mental health field.
The summit, which was hosted by the New Jersey based organization, the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, was funded by Friedrich Air Conditioning at the Brookside School in Merrick — space that was donated to the group by the Central District.
Stacy Brief, 24 of Bellmore, is a licensed social worker, and 2016 graduate of Wellington C. Mepham High School. Brief works as a therapist at the North Shore Family and Guidance Center in Roslyn, but also serves as the Long Island Coordinator for the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. Brief told the Herald that while in high school, she was going through a difficult time, struggling with anxiety and depression.
Stacy’s father, John Brief, who works for Friedrich Air Conditioning, had a coworker in the same industry, that served on the Board of Directors for SPTS, and recommended the family get connected to them.
“They suggested we check out one of their fundraisers,” she recounted. “It really spoke to me — it helped me make meaning of what I was going through.”
Brief started sharing her story at SPTS events, and at this point, she said her entire family is very involved with the organization. “We had been volunteering and working with SPTS in Jersey, and we saw the impact it was having there,” she said. “I said, ‘Our community could have this, we could do it too.’”
Brief helped assemble a committee of mental health professionals, educators and local school district administrators to create a wellness summit on Long Island. The first summit was hosted at the same location in Merrick in 2019, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, it took a two-year hiatus.
Four students and 2 staff from each participating district attended the event, that was meant solely for sophomores and juniors in high school.
The summit began with a “Strings of Hope” resiliency panel, hosted by 3 young adults including Brief. Following the panel, attendees went to two sessions of workshops. Later in the day, a resource fair connected students to 16 groups on Long Island, such as the therapeutic schools, safe centers, and yoga studios, among others. The last event was a keynote presentation given by the organization Lead You, who led a “high energy, interactive assembly,” according to Brief, where students were taught how to relieve stress, find safe coping skills and manage anxiety through interactive play.
Susan Tellone, the clinical director of SPTS, explained that the organization is all about education and training, rather then therapy. “Our focus is on increasing awareness and teaching,” she said.
Since its founding in 2005 SPTS has educated 650,000 teachers, to recognize and combat warning signs of suicide. They also work to educate parents and community leaders.
Wellness summits were common for SPTS prior to the pandemic, and their goal is to get the conversation about mental health started. “We are trying to model how to talk about mental health,” she said.”
Tellone said kids often think that they’re the only ones struggling. “Once they start talking about it, they see its not true,” she added. “It’s okay to ask for help.”