One of the local Fairfield County, CT communities served by www.rtor.org.
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Wilton, a quaint residential town, incorporated in 1802, is nestled in the heart of Fairfield County, Connecticut. The town has a population of 18,062 (2010, U.S. Census) with a median household income of $175,019. Wilton is well known for its top ranked schools, rural atmosphere and abundance of historic architecture.
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Focus on Mental Health in Wilton
An extensive Wilton survey, conducted by Suniya Luthar, Ph.D., Foundation Professor of Psychology at the Arizona State University, found that teenagers in Wilton are experiencing anxiety and depression at higher rates than their peers compared to the national norm.
In 2017 over 1,200 Wilton High School students, nearly the entire student body, took the survey, known as the Youth Self-Report. The report found that nearly 30% of Wilton students experience “above average” levels of internalizing symptoms, compared to a national norm of 7%. Of that number, nearly 20% of Wilton students reported “much above average” levels, compared to a national norm of 2%.
“These symptoms include feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Suniya Luthar. “It also includes physical problems that can be linked to emotional distress such as headaches or stomachaches. Often, kids may hide these feelings,” she added.
According to Dr. Andrew Gerber, President and Medical Director of Silver Hill Hospital, everyone is affected by mental health and addiction in one way or another and talking about it is the first step to ending the stigma around both issues.
“Based on statistics and prevalence there is no such thing as a family that is not touched by mental illness or addiction,” said Dr. Gerber. “We are all affected by it. So how do we take that and weave it into the fabric of our conversations and our lives, not to accept it, but rather acknowledge that this is a part of the human condition and we need to be proactive about it, the same way we are proactive about heart disease or cancer.”
A Mental Health Needs Assessment conducted by Wilton Youth Services found that although mental health awareness in Wilton is increasing the town is also seeing a dramatic increase in anxiety related disorders.
According to Kim Zemo, District Safe School Climate Coordinator, there is a huge pressure on students in Wilton to be on track towards admission to high profile colleges. “For those students who are not on this track, they experience additional stressors of not fitting in,” Ms. Zemo said.
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Drug and Alcohol Use
Similar to its neighboring towns throughout Fairfield County substance misuse is a top concern for parents regarding middle and high school students in Wilton.
According to Wilton Youth Services Coordinator, Colleen Fawcett, LCSW, Wilton has been proactively addressing substance abuse since 1998 by collecting substance use data to track trends in usage. The data shows that there has been a decrease in substance misuse in Wilton Youth and the town is now shifting its focus to address the root causes of addiction. “A new trend of concern is the increased use of smokeless tobacco and vaping, which reflects the trend seen nationally,” said Colleen Fawcett.
According to the Youth Self-Report, rates of substance use in Wilton are elevated compared to national norms but similar to other high achieving schools. The Youth Self-Report found that 35% of all high school students in Wilton reported having drunk to intoxication, and as many as 45% of juniors and seniors reported use of an e-cigarette or JUUL. “Kids might think they are harmless, but we need to help them understand that we do not know what is in them yet,” said Dr. Suniya Luthar.
According to the results of a Youth/Parent Survey conducted by the Wilton Youth Council and Positive Directions of Westport, the overall use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other drugs has decreased in the 17 years since the survey was first administered to Wilton students. However, the survey results also indicated that there were certain “areas of concern,” which included the use of heroin, cocaine and prescription medication as well as high rates of binge drinking. Another major finding of the survey was that 26% of high school juniors and seniors reported multiple substance use within 30 days prior to the survey, a number that has stayed relatively constant over the last eight years.
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To address these mental health and substance abuse concerns the Wilton Community has taken proactive steps to increase prevention efforts and promote early intervention. Wilton Public Schools, Wilton Youth Council and Wilton Youth Services have collaborated to explore the challenges families and schools face in preparing children for healthy, successful futures.
According to Genevieve Eason, Wilton Youth Council Executive Director, collaboration among all Wilton organizations is the reason the town has been able to start making real changes. “None of the work and changes in the community could happen without the strong collaboration amongst the Wilton youth and family serving organizations and the leadership support from the school system,” said Ms. Easton.
A number of programs have been implemented within the Wilton Public School System to promote social and emotional learning and build resiliency among elementary, middle school, and high school students.
Last year, Wilton Youth Services and Wilton Continuing Education received a grant to bring the GoZen! program to Wilton’s youngest students. GoZen! is an evidence-based resilience training program for elementary students which teaches children about stress and anxiety: what it is and why it occurs, and introduces students to coping, resilience, and happiness skills that can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
To build middle school students’ problem solving skills, Wilton Youth Council in collaboration with Wilton Youth Services and Middlebrook School, developed the PeerConnection program. PeerConnection is an after school program which is based on the premise that when young people have problems, they most often turn to friends whom they trust for help, and that within every school an informal “helping network” of peers exists. The program seeks to identify this informal network of young people who represent all the different subgroups within schools and provide training and support to those who are already serving as helpers.
Mellissa Barrett, Director of Community Steps at Wilton High School, said the school is developing strategies to address the high rates of stress and anxiety in Wilton High School students. In 2017, they established the position of Safe School Climate Coordinator, whose role is to promote pro-active initiatives that focus on mental wellness and social and emotional learning and substance abuse prevention. Wilton High School offers the Flex program, which provides opportunities for differentiated instruction for a small number of students struggling with social and emotional needs. In addition, Wilton High School started Community Steps, a transition program for 18- to 21-year-old students with complex needs. The program provides support to individuals with special needs after graduating high school and as they begin to map out their futures, focusing on life skills, vocational skills and community engagement.
Wilton High School also offers Warrior Council, a high school group that provides students an avenue to substance-free activities, healthy alternatives to substance abuse, and an opportunity to build leadership skills through planning educational forums. To engage students prior to entering high school, Middlebrook Middle School offers the Youth to Youth program, a community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program. Youth to Youth focuses on four components: community service; personal growth; positive activities; and alcohol education, and is a feeder program to the Warrior Council.
A robust agenda of parent education seminars and community building activities are offered to parents and the community at large to complement and support the mental health promotion and substance abuse prevention efforts being implemented within the schools. The Wilton Youth Council, Wilton Youth Services, and Wilton SPED NET (Special Education Network of Wilton. Ltd.) sponsor free day and evening seminars featuring local and national experts. Topics brought to the Wilton community have included: the Physiology of Addiction; Strengthening Parent-Teen Connections; the Importance of Free Play; Your Kids’ Secrets about Drugs & Alcohol; Tools for Parents of Kids with Special Needs; and Practical Strategies for Getting Worry & Anxiety Out of the Way of Learning.
According to Dr. Gerber of Silver Hill Hospital, Fairfield County has a unique opportunity to demonstrate how a mental health and addiction system should work.
“In Fairfield County we are quite fortunate to have the experience of services here that is virtually unmatched by any area of the country, in terms of treatment providers, mental health and addiction services, “said Dr. Gerber. “I think it gives us an opportunity and a responsibility to model what it looks like to have a comprehensive mental health and addiction system.”
For more information on mental health services in Wilton, contact an rtor.org Resource Specialist. Resource Specialists can help families find expert mental health resources to recover in Wilton and other communities of Fairfield County. This is a free service.
rtor.org Family-Endorsed Providers serving Wilton residents
Colleen Fawcett, LCSW – provides individual and family therapy and works with children of all ages, parents, adults, and couples.
Laurel House, Inc. – a nonprofit organization located in Stamford and 14 towns in Fairfield County, provides resources and opportunities for individuals and families to achieve and sustain mental health.
Mountainside – Mountainside outpatient services are part of a nationally acclaimed behavioral health network providing individualized alcohol and drug addiction treatment in Wilton, CT.
Silver Hill Hospital – independent, nonprofit psychiatric hospital, located in New Canaan and Wilton, is known for compassionate, quality care and an individualized approach to treatment.
More Resources in Wilton
Flex program at Wilton High School – provides opportunities for differentiated instruction for a small number of students struggling with social and emotional needs.
GoZen program – an evidence-based resilience training program for elementary students which teaches children about stress and anxiety: what it is and why it occurs, and introduces students to coping, resilience, and happiness skills that can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
NAMI-CAN Parent Support Group – free support group that provides families and friends of those living with mental health challenges with an intimate, understanding environment within which to share experiences and gain insight from others in similar circumstances.
PeerConnection Program – an after school program for middle school students in Wilton that seeks to identify young people who represent all the different subgroups within schools and provide training and support to those who are already serving as helpers.
Positive Directions of Westport – a 501(c)(3), state-licensed provider of behavioral health treatment and prevention programs
SPED*NET Wilton – a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation organized exclusively for educational purposes, more specifically, to educate the public about special needs, special education and disability-related issues.
Warrior Council (Youth to Youth) at Wilton High School – provides high school students an avenue to substance-free activities, healthy alternatives to substance abuse, and an opportunity to build leadership skills through planning educational forums.
Wilton Social Services – the mission of the Wilton Department of Social Services is to meet the social and psychological needs of Wilton residents of all ages.
Wilton Youth Council – an all-volunteer organization that promotes and protects the social, emotional and mental well-being of Wilton’s students.
Wilton Youth Services – tends to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of Wilton’s young people; provides information on all things child-related: referrals, consultation with parents and professionals, case management, problem assessment, and counseling services.
www.rtor.org – rtor.org is a free service of Laurel House, Inc. It is a gateway website that helps families nationwide find expert mental health resources and best practice services.
For more information on mental health services in Wilton speak with an RtoR Resource Specialist at www.rtor.org.
By User: Noroton – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Source
Wilton Town Hall
By User: Noroton – Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, Source