By Mara Certic
Living in a small town, where everyone knows each other and everyone seems to talk, it can be difficult to know who to turn to or where to go for help.
For the past 30 years, the Family Service League has been one of the only mental health clinics and options from Montauk to Southampton. “Southampton Hospital has historically not had psychiatric services,” Dr. Larry Weiss, chief program officer at the FSL said this week. “Apart from them it’s pretty much left to private practitioners, many of whom don’t take insurance.”
The FSL has two clinics, and has recently improved its relationships with school districts to work on prevention, and also to provide support when a child is in crisis.
“We’ve recently expanded the services at both of our clinic in East Hampton and in Southampton with an emphasis on services for the youth,” Dr. Weiss said this week, while driving home from a family strengthening workshop the FSL is hosting this year at the Montauk School.
“This all began with concerns over youth suicide and other destructive behaviors,” said Robyn Berger-Gaston, director of youth and senior services at FSL. “We need to enlist families to help identify problems,” she said.
“What we’re trying to do is help families be connected to the school and have kids and parents communicate with each other, before kids start to get involved with drugs,” she said. “We need the communities to work with us.”
In fact, just this week, a group went to Montauk School to do three-hour training sessions with teachers, parents and members of the community, helping people identify those around them who might be suicidal, and teaching them the right questions to ask those they worry might be at risk.
It’s difficult to know, Ms. Berger-Gaston said, whether or not the number of young people dying from drug overdoses and suicide is increasing because of the changes in population here, but she acknowledged the phenomenon of suicide clusters, where one death can lead to more.
During a meeting of the East End Peer Network, many young people spoke about how working in the service industry can turn kids to drugs and alcohol at an early age.
“Substance abuse is a big problem out here,” she said, adding that when the colder weather comes, there are fewer and fewer places for people to go and things for them to do.
Jacqui Leader co-founded the Sax Leader Foundation last year after her son died of a drug overdose in November 2013. “I’m still pretty confused about it all, and it seems to be getting harder to deal with life,” she said this week.
“You have to keep people who have passed on alive, and through his foundation we’re trying to do that,” she said. The group raises money to send local people to get the rehabilitation help that they need.
“If AA isn’t working, if staying in their environment is not working out here, or you just don’t have the money because a lot of these places are expensive, we pay for the rehab.”
Her son hated AA, she said, which can be great for some people, but “if they’re not ready, it’s not going to help them.” The foundation has been helping people fund the moves they want to make. One local woman, for example, who has been clean for the past year but is looking for some sort of purpose, will be going to a facility in India for a spell.
Another local kid expressed interest in going to a working farm, and the Sax Leader Foundation will be supporting that endeavor, too.
“I believe very much that Sax makes contact still, I think he’s going to come back, not as Sax Leader, but somehow,” she said. “He left something very strong here, I feel that as his mother I have to keep his legacy going on.”
The Sax Leader Foundation will be holding Once… A surfing benefit for the learning disabled, at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett at the end of September. For more information about the event, or about the foundation, visit saxleaderfoundation.com. The Family Service League will host an informational session about bullying and anxiety for kids with autism in Westhampton Beach on December 1. For more information visit fsl-li.org. To get involved with the Family Service League, call Ms. Berger-Gaston at (631) 591-7580. To learn more about the Tyler Project visit Facebook.com/thetylervalcichproject.