County embraces prevention planning

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Social workers and those in the mental health field have understood this for some time where early detection, diagnosis and intervention have been the stratagems for keeping at-risk persons — and society as a result — healthy and stable.

Following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere, where untreated and unstable individuals unleashed unthinkable death and mayhem onto innocent children and their families, Dutchess County has now also embraced a proactive preventative approach focused on youth development and crisis outreach. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ken Glatt are both to be commended for their leadership in this crucial area.

In November a county-wide prevention council was assembled to look at the science of prevention and to outline prevention goals. A full-time prevention coordinator, Marie Dynes, LCSW, was appointed thanks to funding from the state. With cooperation from school districts, county employees are now making presentations in area schools on suicide prevention, mental and emotional health, and training school personnel on available county and state programs and services. Social/emotional school-based programs, Positive Action and Second Step (both programs with reputations for reducing violence while increasing academic success), are also being made available to the school districts.

Thirty people were trained as trainers over five days in February by the National Council on Behavioral Healthcare in Mental Health First Aid. This is an evidence-based program to help identify those struggling with mental health symptoms, learn how to de-escalate a situation, and learn where to refer for treatment if needed. A goal of Mental Health First Aid is for the new trainers to then offer training throughout the community, including to school personnel.

The county’s HELPLINE (845-485-9700), an around-the-clock crisis hotline, has expanded its services to include a Texting for Teens program to permit teens to seek out help using their preferred method of communication. Plans are also in the works for developing a Suicide Prevention application for iPhone, iPad and Android phones.

Additionally the Prevention Council/Coordinator is focused on identifying those who are in danger of developing a substance abuse disorder. The nonprofit, Council on Addiction and Prevention & Education (CAPE), has volunteered its research, which for the last several years been conducting surveys in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades to measure substance use, parental attitudes, risks and protective factors. I have suggested that the surveys be broadened to also include detection of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, stress levels and other risk factors.

If Ben Franklin is right about the value of prevention — and there are ample indications to support such a theory — the good efforts of Marie Dynes and her colleagues will keep Dutchess County schools safe. It will also likely improve the lives of at-risk young people, keep them from going astray, and assist families in trying times.

Michael N. Kelsey represents the people of Amenia, Washington, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.