Nashoba Publishing/Dina Samfield
Page Hilltop Elementary School Guidance Counselor Betsy Dolan and TADS-Cofounder Steven Boczenowski address the Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee about the need for the continued availability of the MSPP INTERFACE Helpline. The helpline is a mental health referral service designed to support children and adults through age 24.
By Dina Samfield
SHIRLEY -- TADS co-founder Steven Boczenowski and Page Hilltop Elementary School guidance counselor Betsy Dolan addressed the Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee last week to report on the school district's contract with MSPP INTERFACE
Boczenowski said that he and his wife Deb, of Groton, founded the nonprofit TADS, or Teen Anxiety and Depression Solutions, three years ago after the suicide of their 21-year-old son Jeffrey.
"We wanted to do something to spare other parents the fate we had to suffer," he said.
"We gave a talk in Groton that went so well we decided to form a foundation. The foundation is made up of a wonderful group of friends -- a board of 10 people including myself, my wife, Betsy, and seven other people."
The purpose of the foundation is to raise awareness about and de-stigmatize mental illness, facilitate open discussion about it, and help families connect to the mental health services they need.
TADS has since contracted with MSSP INTERFACE, a program of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) Freedman Center, a mental health referral service designed to support children and adults up to the age of 24.
The two-year Ayer Shirley contract was signed last year.
"We tell people, if you see these things happening with your children, go out and seek help, but that is not that easy... We think people should have access to therapy right away," Boczenowski explained.
The INTERFACE Helpline, 617-332-3666 ext. 1411, is available to participating communities, including Ayer-Shirley, Groton-Dunstable, and Harvard, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Boczenowski said that the resource and referral counselors who answer the phone are very good at what they do and excellent at giving referrals.
"They have a comprehensive list of mental health providers, and within two days to two weeks they will have a match for your needs and budget," he said.
Ayer Shirley INTERFACE Activity Report
The INTERFACE activity report for the first six months of the program for Ayer and Shirley, presented to the school committee, indicates that there were 57 calls made to the service, a large number compared with the 37 made in the first six months the program was made available in Groton.
"I think what that means is that there is a real need in this community, and now that need is being served," remarked Boczenowski. "It's not so good news, but it is good news. It is 2013, and that's where we are right now. In the first six months we will see this high rate and expect that it will level out."
The report indicates that in the same time frame, between November 1, 2012 and April 30, 2013, communities representing other area school districts already in the program placed just one or two calls.
"The interesting thing about looking at this report is that if you look at the numbers, there are quite a few elementary school children who are served," he added, referring to the fact that 27 of the cases were for children ages five to 12 years old.
"The fastest growing constituency they serve is seven- and eight-year-olds, and a lot of times (the concern) is anxiety -- school anxiety. They are just anxious," he said.
Other common concerns cited by Ayer Shirley INTERFACE callers were depression and family issues.
"We are hoping this service will help students get the help that they need and go on and live productive lives," Boczenowski said, adding that he also hopes that after the two-year contract expires, it can be continued through public funds or a corporate sponsor.
"We are really hoping that the service is carried on."
Dolan commented that Boczenowski 's wife Deb often says that she wishes that parents would take their children to a mental health professional like they take their children to the dentist or doctor. She urged parents to take their children to see a mental health provider when they are young, before there is a crisis.
"The service matches the family with their insurance and other needs. And you do not have to be the parent of an Ayer-Shirley student to call," she said.
Contact Elected Officials
Although the Affordable Care Act provides for health insurance coverage of adult children through age 26, the INTERFACE program covers adults only through age 24.
Another issue is that, when one changes employers, a current mental health provider may no longer be covered under an employee's new insurance.
Boczenowski said that Rep. Sheila Harrington of Groton and Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell have filed an amendment to House Bill 3425, which would eliminate such a disruption in mental health care.
H. 3425, "relative to extending health insurance coverage for services rendered by certain licensed mental health or substance abuse providers," has been approved by both the House and Senate, and has since been referred to the Financial Services Committee.
Boczenowski said that he is encouraging people to call their legislators so that H. 3425 is passed and "any mental health provider in the state will get paid by any business in Massachusetts."
The Joint Committee on Financial Services is chaired by East Boston Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, 617-722-1634, and Newburyport Rep. Michael Costello, 617-722-2220.
The bill is necessary, said Boczenowski, because, currently, if someone who has a mental health provider switches jobs and the new employer's insurance does not include that same provider, "they are both kind of stuck.
"If this legislation passes it will solve that sort of problem. The cycle for legislation is every two years, so in 18 months we hope this will have passed. But for now MSPP will refer you to a provider who will cover your insurance. But if you change insurance you may have to call again and get another referral."
The school committee offered to place a link to MSPP INTERFACE on the school district website. More information on the program can be found at www.msppinterface.org.