The pandemic exacerbated an already-critical level of mental health challenges facing adults and children today, both in Wilton and the United States. In the fall of 2022, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in children’s mental health. The CDC says one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year.
But it is not hopeless, and there are many people, organizations and resources in Wilton dedicated to helping address the mental health crisis here. GOOD Morning Wilton has compiled this list of free, confidential resources related to mental health support that offers a place to start for anyone uncertain about where to turn, struggling to find an affordable therapist or psychiatrist, or needing help understanding mental health options for themselves or their children.
This Friday, March 3, there is an event called “Wilton: Let’s Talk Mental Health Community Conversation” at the Wilton YMCA. The event is from 9:15-11 a.m. and people can register for free online. It is one of many events town organizations have hosted to foster vulnerable, honest and productive conversations about mental health.
“This is a place to come together to let us know what you need or if you can speak for someone else what they need,” Vanessa Elias, a mental health activist and panelist for the event, said.
While much of the news has focused on the mental health needs for kids, Elias reinforced that mental health issues is something that can affect everyone. “It’s not just kids and teens that are struggling, it’s adults too,” she added. “[We want them] to know that they’re not alone.”
In fact, Friday’s event also focuses on “everyday mental health challenges,” not just crises.
Andrew Gerber, the president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital, will present on signs of concern, the scope of mental health and when to seek help, and where to go. Panelists include Wilton Deputy Police Chief Robert Cipolla; Wilton Social Services Director Sarah Heath; Kim Zemo, the Safe School Climate Coordinator for the Wilton Public Schools; Marie Demasi, Advocate for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (CT Chapter); Anthony Nave, LCSW, from Mountainside Recovery; Denise Qualey, MSW, from Kids in Crisis; Wilton Youth Council Director Chandra Ring, MEd; and members of the Wilton Mental Health Task Force, in addition to experts and advocates from various advocacy groups.
The event will also offer an opportunity for community members to ask questions on mental health.
This event is sponsored by Wilton Public Schools, Riverbrook Regional YMCA, Town of Wilton, Wilton Mental Health Task Force, Wilton Youth Council, Wilton Police Department, Kids in Crisis, NAMI Southwest CT, Silver Hill Hospital and Mountainside.
What follows is a compilation of free mental health resources available to all Wilton residents. At the end is a list of hotlines and crisis resource information.
Wilton Social Services
Location: Comstock Community Center (180 School Rd.)
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Email: See contact list on town website
Sarah Heath, Wilton Social Services Director, said the department is a resource for anyone in Wilton to find mental health support. The office works directly with Wilton residents to match people with the help they need.
Last month, the department announced a new partnership with Positive Directions, a Westport-based non-profit behavioral health organization, to provide a direct link to free counseling for Wilton families. This Counseling Assistance Program, or CAP, expedites the process of connecting those in need to resources fast — Positive Directions can do intake, assessment and ongoing counseling, and at least two families a week can access help through it.
Heath said her department has already referred two families so far, and people who are referred out will be seen within the week.
“It’s just the start of what should be a great mental health option for Wilton residents,” Heath said. “It is just one option, but I do think it can help a lot of people.”
It’s also not the only Social Service Department option for residents. With three licensed clinicians on staff, the department can do crisis counseling — including through Wilton Youth Services (see below) — and will work with kids and teens, adults and seniors.
Heath also stressed that the Social Service Department works with each client to match them with an outside referral depending on their needs. The office partners with many Wilton and Connecticut organizations. Though mental health nonprofits can have waiting lists of a few weeks, there are also private providers in the community that Wilton Social Services can connect people to.
In addition, Social Services can help assist financially outside of the Counseling Assistance Program and work to find the best option for people.
For more general support, the department also lists the links to past webinars on its website, with events recorded on mental health, domestic violence, gambling and more.
Wilton Social Services also has a senior social group that meets every other week. Heath says this is “in some ways a senior support group” that offers community and check-ins. There is a calendar of events for seniors online.
Heath added that her department communicates closely with organizations such as the Wilton Police Department, the Wilton schools, the Wilton Fire Department, and area doctors and clinicians.
“There’s definitely a network of support,” she said. “There’s just so many ways that people can come to us if they need help. And then we work to make sure that they get what they need.”
The simplest way to get in touch? Give the office a call.
Wilton Youth Services
Location: Comstock Community Center (180 School Rd.)
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Email: Contact Trinity Haswell via the town website
Wilton Youth Services is a branch of Wilton Social Services that is the primary town resource to address Wilton’s young residents’ social, emotional and behavioral needs. Like Social Services, Youth Services provides referrals, consultations, problem assessment and case management. The department can also similarly provide financial assistance and works closely with the schools and parents on developing solutions.
The Youth Services office also partners with Wilton Youth Council, a non-profit that offers educational programming in addition to other mental health-focused events.
Wilton Police Department
Location: 240 Danbury Rd.
Phone: 9-1-1 or 203.834.6260
Deputy Chief Robert Cipolla said the Wilton Police Department responds to emergent mental health situations in Wilton, but can also direct people in non-emergent conditions to resources.
About 80% of Wilton’s officers are trained in mental health crisis response after taking a five-day, 40-hour training course led by an outside organization on de-escalation, safe resolution, and connecting people to long-term resources. The trained officers then join the department’s Crisis Intervention Team. The specific training Wilton officers participate in (through the organization called CABLE) started in 2016, and on every shift there is at least one officer from the team who can be on-site in the case of a mental health crisis. (Pre-COVID 100% of officers were trained, and more are being trained actively right now).
Help beyond immediate crisis intervention includes transport to the hospital through police emergency examination requests, where the person in crisis can connect to social workers, clinicians at the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford, and referrals through Wilton Social Services, Cipolla said.
“It’s really kind of bridging the gap between us as the police and a service that can be
helpful to a person in crisis,” Cipolla said.
He added that the types of calls the police department receives for mental health-related help can vary. But officers, including deputies and detectives, are trained to help and are willing to connect people to resources and intervene before a crisis level as well.
Wilton Public Schools
Email: Best point of contact is the child’s assigned counselor. See a directory online.
Kim Zemo, a social worker by training and the district’s Safe School Climate
Coordinator said her role involves tackling intervention and prevention of mental health at a district level. Mental health support at all levels has been bolstered since the pandemic, but awareness is very important.
“At the high school, every student is assigned a school counselor. Oftentimes kids think, that’s just going to help me with the college process, but the school counselors really do more than just the academic,” Zemo said. “They do provide kind of the first intervention around social and emotional support and individual counseling.”
All counselors have mental health training, and Wilton High School alone also employs three social workers and three psychologists for more “intensive support” for students. But the counselor, Zemo said, is truly the first line of support for students — and sometime peers, parents and trusted adults — can turn to if they believe someone is in trouble.
“We have really over the last five years pushed the messaging around who’s your trusted adult?” Zemo said. “And then norming with kids that certain things you can’t keep confidential. Telling an adult and going to an adult [is not] tattling, but really around safety and support, that it’s okay to do that.”
Zemo encourages parents to reach out to school counselors as well to explain what’s
going on, as counselors can direct parents to resources both in and out of school. Anyone in the Wilton Public Schools community can reach out to a social worker or psychologist at the school as well.
In January, the school brought on a full-time “teen talk” counselor — someone from the Kids in Crisis program that can provide individual counseling and family support.
“They are not employed by the school district. They’re employed by Kids in Crisis,” Zemo said. “Some students maybe feel more comfortable that it’s someone outside of technically the school but they’re housed in the school.”
The increase in staff was made possible through grant funding. Zemo said the school
does crisis intervention and assessment, as well as connecting families to outside resources.
“Part of what I feel is important in my role is continuing to partner and talk with outside agencies and other towns [about] what are the newest resources, what are the availabilities, [and] getting to the mental health staff updated information,” Zemo said. “And when we find needs, it’s being able to talk with the town and other resources to say this is what we’re seeing, how can we begin to kind of address this gap in treatment?”
For students in need of immediate mental health support within school during school hours, such as when they’re having a panic attack, Zemo said the school nurse is a great resource.
“We can certainly deal with those kinds of things in house and then, if it’s more chronic and needs more attention, to bridge with some outside resources,” Zemo said.
The work at the high school also extends to classwork. A new Wellness Seminar Course, open to all students as an elective for credit, has three sections running. It uses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT in school.
“It helps students with emotional regulation, distress tolerance skills, interpersonal
effectiveness, skills and mindfulness,” Zemo said. She added that while this class is only offered now at the high school, district educators have embedded an introduction to these skills in the Life and Health curriculums at Middlebrook Middle School, and are working to expand the program.
At both of Wilton’s elementary schools, social-emotional learning is taught using Yale’s RULER model, an acronym for emotional intelligence standing for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating. And Cider Mill and Miller-Driscoll each have multiple psychologists and counseling and social work supports on staff.
Zemo wants families to know that there is support available everywhere, and any support provided through the schools is confidential.
“When your child is having a mental health issue or crisis, or you’re not sure, it can be very scary. And it’s not a very easy pathway to figure out what the steps are,” Zemo said. “We’re here to help, we’re here to partner.”
Zemo said the district’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee is currently working on finding screening tests for Wilton schools. This year, parents could opt to have their children undergo a screening at transition year levels — grades 3, 6, 8, 9, and 12 — and Zemo said parents of anyone who missed it could contact her or their child’s counselor to get their child screened.
Zemo added that she believes the schools are most effective when they partner with
families. She believes the stigma about mental health issues is still prevalent, but she does not want families to hesitate to reach out anyway.
“I think people hesitate, maybe calling the schools or sharing,” Zemo said. “The
information won’t impact college acceptances, and I know there’s concerns about that from students as well. My biggest message is we’re in it together … and not to hesitate to reach out because that’s when we can be most effective.”
NAMI Southwest CT
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday (helpline 24/7)
Phone: 203.400.6264 (helpline: 800.950.6264)
NAMI — the National Alliance on Mental Illness — South West CT is led by loved ones of people with mental health conditions, and provides free support groups, advocacy opportunities,connections to resources and education. The organization lists crisis resources too, as well as resource guides, such as The Hub’s Fairfield County mental health services document, available in English or Spanish, which lists specific treatment centers, support and specialty services for adults and children.
NAMI also offers numerous support groups for families and friends of people struggling with mental health, listed online — free, confidential and online. They are led by trained facilitators like Vanessa Elias who have lived experience too. People can reach out to the respective emails on the linked website to get the meeting password and join.
Elias is a Wilton parents support group facilitator for NAMI. “It’s a confidential, free, confidential space,” she said. “Everyone that’s there is struggling with something.”
Part of the support groups includes NAMI-CAN Child and Adolescent Network, for
parents and primary caregivers of people under 21 with mental health challenges.
These support groups focus on caregiver needs too.
“We really focus on, what can we help you with today?” Elias said. “The group is there to support.”
Elias has been a facilitator for more than seven years at NAMI. She says she considers herself a “mental health activist,” was on the founding team of Wilton’s Mental Health Task Force and runs her own mental health consultancy for parents with struggling kids, Thrive With a Guide.
She’s a resource who will give anyone 30 minutes of listening, help, and guidance for free, she said. Mental health resources and the system itself can be very difficult for caregivers or adults who need help themselves to navigate it. NAMI, and professionals like her, are in the town to help guide.
“It’s really complex. Some people say the system is broken. Generally nationally, you
could also say there is no system,” Elias said.
That’s also why mental health awareness – and data – is important, Elias said, as well as resources like Wilton Social Services that can help families meet their financial needs for treatment and connect people to referrals.
One gap Elias sees is in case management — someone to follow people through their mental health journey, through finding resources and obtaining help. She pointed to the Family-to-Family Course offered by NAMI in Greenwich starting March 11, a free education course for family members 18 and up helping people learn about the mental health system as another resource.
Finally, NAMI provides tangible tools to help. They post a guide for navigating
the mental health crisis, a link to Resources to Recover (a free, online service that connects people with experts) and an events calendar.
Other Wilton Community Resources
Wilton Youth Council is one of the sponsors of Friday’s community mental health discussion event, and has a mission to “promote the wellbeing of Wilton’s students.” Wilton Youth Council often hosts events related to wellness and mental health, as well as community building.
Trackside Teen Center also hosts events related to wellness and fosters a comfortable, safe community space.
Wilton Pride has been hosting a range of supportive events for the LGBTQ+ community, on that is often considered at higher risk for experiencing mental
The Wilton Library published in its January 2023 Strategic Plan for the next three
years included teen mental health concerns in roundtable findings, noting “the positive role the Library can play as an objective connector to a range of services in and around Wilton that can address social-emotional health and executive function.”
The Wilton schools’ Zemo said above everything, what all kids really need — what all people really need — is a safe person to turn to.
“We talk a lot about every kid having a trusted adult, we know that is a prevention
factor,” she said. “When talking about mental health, safety and threatening behavior, it’s who are you connected to?”
As seen in the list above and below, the opportunities for safe connection and help are plentiful. There is someone and someplace to turn to for everyone.
Free Hotlines in Connecticut
Free Hotlines in Connecticut (many listed on this Wilton Social Services Infographic)
Hotlines are resources for when individuals are in crisis, don’t know where to turn and/or need someone to talk to. Trained professionals are waiting to assist. These lines are confidential and free. Warmlines are typically also confidential and free, and are run by peer support who can offer emotional support and/or connect people to help.
- CT’s Action Line — Dial 211, option 1 or 800.467.3135
- For people 18 years or older. (For 211 for children, press 1. Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services works for all ages, however. Residents can also call 800.203.1234. Mental health professionals are dispatched to the location of crisis and provide or help provide emergency intervention)
- 24-hour hotline
- Department of Mental Health And Addiction Services Mobile Crisis Team —
- Mental health clinicians who can respond on-scene to adults in crisis
- Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Kids in Crisis — 203.661.1911
- For people 0-17 years old
- 24-hour hotline
- Anyone with concern for a child can call day or night. Crisis counselors can
provide immediate help and assessment.
- Often partners with WPS
- NAMI Helpline — 800.950.6264
- Also available by via email
- Helpline is Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST
- 24/7 text help — Text NAMI to 741-741
- Domestic Violence Crisis Center — 203.588.9097
- 24/7 crisis intervention and confidentiality
- Counseling and advocacy
- Safe Housing
- Domestic Violence SafeConnect — 888.774.2900
- Call or text confidentially, 24/7
- Confidentially via email
- Access Line — 800.563.4086
- Access to substance use treatment, including transportation and detox
- Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership Warmline — 877.552.8247
- Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Center for Sexual Assault Hotline — 888.999.5545
- Spanish number: 888.568.8332
Other Connecticut Resources
- JoinRiseBe Young Adult Warmline — 800-6-HOPENOW (Peer Support Line)
- Call with a young adult peer specialist
- 12-9 p.m. daily
- Turning Point CT Resources Map
- Map of Resources related to wellness, treatment and advocacy, as well as legal support, housing, and food
- Peer-recommended programs and peer support (not clinicians)
- CT Community for Addiction Recovery, young adult and family program
- SMART Recovery CT
- Free addiction recovery support for young adults and teens
- Alternative to 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous led by facilitators and volunteers
- Online Sessions
Free Hotlines Nationally
- Suicide and Crisis Hotline – 988
- National Mental Health Hotline — 866.903.3787
- Specific links to Anxiety Hotline, Panic Attack Hotline, Bipolar Hotline, PTSD Hotline, Depression Hotline, Schizophrenia Hotline.
- SAMHSA National Helpline — 800.662.4357
- Treatment referral and information service