Middle and high school students from the Walton Central School District will soon be able to receive mental health services at their school. 

This effort to improve student access to mental health services is in conjunction with Delaware County Mental Health Department, according to a media release from Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES.

There will be an office staffed with a mental health professional from Delaware County Mental Health set up in the middle school/high school. 

The office opens Tuesday, Nov. 19. O’Neill High School Principal Arthur Loomis said Tuesday is more of a welcoming day for the professional, Walton-based Clinical Social Worker Erika Miller.

Miller will probably start seeing students next week, Loomis said. 

“We are extremely excited to have the chance to offer this program to our student body,” Dr. George F. Mack Middle School Principal Adam Hoover said in the release. “We expect to see the benefits take place almost immediately.”

The office will start out being staffed once a week and will expand if necessary, said Cynthia Heaney, director of community services at Delaware County Mental Health Department.

Heaney said parents or guardians will have to sign off on treatment. She said having an office in the school will help the children whose parents may not have the ability to get them to treatment, and will also help normalize mental health treatment. 

Most of the schools in Delaware County have school-based social workers, Heaney said, but Walton didn’t. She said Bassett Healthcare Network has four school-based health centers in Delaware County; in Sidney, South Kortright, Stamford and Delhi.

School-based behavioral health services are available to students in the Andes, Downsville, Margaretville and Roxbury school districts through the Margaretville Hospital Mental Health Program, according to www.margaretvillehosp.org/e-psych.

Loomis said the county mental health department asked the school to provide a list of students it feels would benefit from the service. 

“Our students have such diverse backgrounds and the makeup of their families are all different,” Loomis said. “Sometimes it is behaviors that we’re seeing, sometimes it’s grades leading into a discussion with that student where they allude to severe things happening at home.”

Loomis said it hasn’t been decided yet whether these students will be required to receive treatment. He said the school wasn’t given a limit for the number of students that can be seen, and said he thinks anyone who wants to receive treatment should be able to even if they’re not on the list. 

“High school students have a tremendous task of balancing home life and social life while trying to maintain grades, do well in extracurriculars at a time when they’re physically changing so much,” Loomis said. “If they did have an opportunity to go see a mental health professional, they should be encouraged to do so.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.

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