Mental Health

Residents struggle with mental health services

Superintendents weight in on what’s happening within the school system


A new poll called “Truth in Medicine” conducted by Mount Sinai South Nassau since 2017 has just concluded. Its findings were that more than one-third of residence on Long Island who sought mental health services found it challenging to find a provider, even if they have insurance coverage.

The poll, which was sponsored by Bethpage Credit Union, also found that anxiety, depression, social isolation and fear of contracting Covid-19 are the prevalent issues among those who have accessed professional mental health care services since the pandemic began.

In this survey of 600 Long Island residents, 92 percent have active health insurance policies. Of those respondents who have sought care, 36 percent said getting the help they wanted or needed was “challenging,” predominantly due to difficulty scheduling an appointment or lack of coverage by their health insurers.

A significant percentage of poll respondents also feel that institutions like government, municipalities, and schools could be doing more to increase the scope of mental health services in the community. Forty-six percent said that the government does not do enough to help, while just 32 percent say that it does.

“We have a crisis on Long Island when it comes to the lack of mental health services,” says Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau. “The poll results strongly indicate that providers are working at or beyond capacity. This calls for an aggressive expansion of mental health screening, prevention, and intervention services to meet the present and future demand for them.”

Since the start of the pandemic, about 84 percent of mental health providers have seen an increase in demand for treatment of anxiety, compared with 74 percent a year ago, while 72 percent of providers have seen an increase in demand for treatment of depression, compared with 60 percent in 2020.

School officials have reported spikes in demand for mental health services among students, even among elementary and middle-schoolers. Meanwhile, some psychiatrists and psychologists report high demand for services but difficulty finding adequate staff to meet demand.

Some local school leaders have called on government officials to do more to address mental health needs in the schools and local communities. Dr. Shari Camhi, Superintendent of Schools in Baldwin said we need to look at the issue through the eyes of the children. “We have to think about what the experience was for kids, so life is going on as normal and come March of 2020 everything stopped, everybody went home, routines are completely disrupted, there were parents’ home,” she said.

For a while it was almost idyllic, she continued, “At least initially what we saw was the young people going back to what I would describe as my childhood, you had a community again, you played at home you rode your bicycle in the neighborhood but overtime what we saw was these disruptions continue.” Disruptions such as the constant negative broadcasts portrayed in social media and the news started to become too much for many, “We started to see that anxiety build and build because the rhetoric was nothing but unsure and uncertain.” 

Kishore Kuncham, Superintendent of Schools in Freeport also weighed in on youths’ mental health, saying while the issues are not new per say, it’s heightened because of the pandemic. “We have been facing the concerns of fear, anxiety, depression even before the pandemic and during the pandemic and now it has compounded and putting pressure on the school system.”

District preparedness before the pandemic lessened the initial blow, Kuncham said, but it’s only the start. “We were kind of ahead of the game being able to address the increased needs that arose during the pandemic and post pandemic but that’s not enough, a lot more needs to be done on an ongoing basis,” he said.

Over in Rockville Centre, Jeanne Love, Assist. Superintendent, Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services said the school has a two-part strategy of how to confront these issues. “Our view in Rockville Centre is very strategic, we have a very strategic plan in place. In one vein, we want to make sure students have access to mental health care if they need it through community partnerships we have with our local hospitals.”

In the second part, Love said, “In another vein its preventative and proactive care, we’ve looked at working with our mental health staff, looking at things like self-advocacy, identifying their self-worth, hope, having hope for the future and stability.” 

Recognizing that many children with psychiatric disorders remain unidentified and untreated, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently issued a recommendation calling for anxiety screening of asymptomatic children ages 8 to 18 who have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and screening of children ages 12 to 18 for major depressive disorder.

“The key to knowing when to seek out help is to determine how the symptoms are affecting overall functioning,” says Stanley Reddy, Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. “Marked decreases in functioning at work, school, and home should be evaluated by a professional promptly before it becomes an emergency.”

The poll found in the event of a mental health emergency, 64 percent of respondents and 80 percent of respondents with children agreed that they know where to find services, while just 20 percent disagreed, and 17 percent were unsure.

Opinions were highly mixed as to whether or not mental health services on Long Island are adequate. Thirty-six percent said they are satisfactory, 29 percent said they are not, and 35 percent were unsure. Approximately one-half of respondents from households that have used mental health services say they are adequate.

Mount Sinai South Nassau has a 36-bed inpatient mental health unit and offers behavioral health services at its Mental Health Counseling Center in Baldwin, as well as its Center for Primary and Behavioral Healthcare in Hempstead.