Hope is on the horizon for those suffering from mental illness on the East End, where doctors, educators, advocates and elected officials have come together to link schools with clinics, connect funding resources with existing programs and pitch new ones — all to support patients suffering from illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and others.
In the United States, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults aged 18 and older and major depression is the leading cause of disability among those ages 15 to 64. In 2015, about 16.1 million adults experienced a depressive episode — about 6.7 percent of the population, the organization reported.
As part of its mission, the East End Mental Health Awareness Initiative has planned a free screening of the PBS documentary “Depression Out of the Shadows” on Friday, October 12, at 7 p.m. at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall at 235 Herrick Road in Southampton. A question-and-answer session will follow.
“A large number of people who suffer from a major depression that is treatable do not get treated,” said Dr. Paul Garson, the Stony Brook Southampton mental health behavior specialist and psychiatrist. A practitioner at Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, he is the psychiatric professional advisor to the East End Mental Health Awareness Initiative.
“They do not realize it’s available, do not have the health care that will get them there or do not recognize the symptoms,” he said. “We need to get the word out so people can be aware of the early signs, know that they can get help even starting with their primary care doctors and that there are other services in the area that they can access.”
Karen Boorshtein, president and chief executive director of the Family Service League, said she thinks Friday’s documentary screening will be helpful.
“People don’t treat depression and mental health problems like it’s a medical problem,” she said. “Anything that can be done to promote good mental health and getting in front of depression is a good thing to raise awareness, and the mental health community supports that.”
In the past year, progress has inched forward. The South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative, an effort started by East Hampton High School principal Adam Fine and school psychologist Ralph Naglieri along with officials from East Hampton Town and New York State, helped a similar collective get off the ground on the North Fork. Both groups work with local Family Service League clinics to get immediate appointments for students who need services. They also work with local hospitals, sometimes involving the long trip to the Stony Brook University Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) when it is needed.
“I wish I could say that everything is done and we don’t have to use all these resources,” said Mr. Fine, who has also been able to raise private funds — about $80,000 over the last four years — to support students in need of services.
Stony Brook University Hospital is planning to start a new pilot program in “telepsychiatry,” under a general program called “telehealth,” in which technology such as video conferencing and digital records access are used to care for patients across long distances for certain types of services.
Dr. Garson said the future of mental health treatment might lie in primary care offices that integrate other forms of medicine into their services, as Meeting House Lane does. He has submitted a proposal for a “multipurpose clinic” that would welcome patients suffering from a variety conditions, mental health and substance abuse included, as substance abuse is often connected to mental health.
But there still remains a gap in services on the East End, he said.
“You’re talking to the entire department of psychiatry at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital,” Dr. Garson said. “For patients who need emergency psychiatric care, right now we still have to send them to the Stony Brook CPEP. There needs to be more access and more readily available treatment.”