The Cortland County Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee unanimously approved a recommendation to provide $100,000 in federal funds for behavioral health programs at schools across the county at Tuesday’s meeting.
The county’s Finance and Personnel Committee will vote on this recommendation at their January meeting. It will move forward to the County Legislative Session in the same month.
Sharon MacDougall, the county’s Mental Health Department Director of Community Services, presented the request to the Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee. She noted the rise in mental health needs in the county, as well as a rising suicide rate across the country among children.
“We really see utilizing this funding specifically to support our youth at a school setting,” MacDougall said, noting the funding would aid the department’s Systems of Care (SOC) program. “We are seeing a huge increase in behavioral health needs in our youth and our schools have been partnered with us.”
MacDougall noted the funding would go toward properly funding SOC at school districts in Cortland County. According to the program’s website, the program is a “coordinated network of services and supports that are organized to meet the physical, mental, social, emotional, education, and developmental needs of children and their families, so they can achieve their own definition of success and equitable outcomes.”
“What we are really seeing is a huge need for mental health and substance-use prevention,” she said. “Sadly we are seeing suicide is the second leading cause of death in the country for all youth over the age of 10.”
According to the county’s Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan released in 2019, Cortland County had a comparable suicide rate to that of New York state’s, excluding New York City. It was between 2015-2017, a 4.3 average per 10,000 residents.
“We don’t see this slowing down,” MacDougall said. MacDougall also noted that the department is also seeking a state grant that will help prepare teachers and teacher aids on mental illness prevention. “We see these needs are going to be increasing. We are looking for anything we can to support the kids.”
“This is a preventive effort to reduce the crisis level,” she said. “Any way you can fund support providers to provide support immediately can help reduce the crisis level needs for the rest of the system.”
County Legislature Republican Majority Leader George Wagner (LD-15) noted he was concerned about the trend of increased suicide rates across the country.
“What is going to bring these numbers down?,” he asked. “If these numbers are on the increase, the first question is why? Everyone wants to blame (COVID-19), but I think it is more about family life. We want to know what is going to bring these stats down.”
MacDougall noted the work the county does at the school level can be effective toward preventing self-harm fatalities.
“The research in healthcare says that if you prevent something early on, and you really focus on your prevention efforts, that could be very effective,” she said.