Town Provides Free, Confidential Assistance and Mental Health Referral Services for Residents

By Kim Siebert MacPhail


Depression. Anxiety. Stress. Parenting, marriage, and family difficulties. Grief and loss. Hopelessness. Thoughts of suicide.

No matter what you or your loved ones may be struggling with, you are not alone. The Town of Lexington and the Lexington Public Schools are here to help you navigate the complicated landscape of mental health services.

As Director of Lexington Human Services Melissa Interess reports, “There is a wide variety of things we can assist with that most residents aren’t aware of. Human Services has four social workers that work with people across the life span. We can meet people in their homes or out in the community; we can be a short-term bridge to something longer-term. Even if you don’t think we’re the right place, make a call so we can help you assess the situation.”

Melissa Interess Director of Human Services, Town of Lexington and Valerie Viscosi, K-12 Director of Counseling.


Valerie Viscosi, Lexington Public Schools Director of Counseling, agrees. Calling her office, during the academic calendar, is a good first step for students and their families. Every Lexington school has a dedicated staff of counselors and social workers who operate under strict confidentiality, as dictated by law. Teachers and staff also receive several types of required training to better help them identify students in need of support.

“Our offices exist and are here to help,” Viscosi said. “People can always reach out and use us as a resource. We want to hear from people we may not know need help. We know a lot about what’s available, here and beyond the municipal and school programs, through our connections to Lexington’s community groups, individuals, and organizations.

“We do a lot of problem solving,” Interess added. “If you can’t figure out where to go, we’re a good starting point.”

William James INTERFACE Referral Service

One particular resource Interess and Viscosi highly recommend is the William James College INTERFACE mental health referral service, provided free of charge and in full confidentiality to all Lexington residents.

Besides Lexington, INTERFACE partners with close to 50 Massachusetts cities, towns, and school districts, including Acton-Boxborough, Cohasset, Concord, Newton, Westford, and Winchester. In the fifteen months since Lexington began its relationship with INTERFACE, 137 Lexington residents have accessed assistance, a number reported to be proportionately higher than other client towns.

Interess and Viscosi note that the top three issues Lexington residents report struggling with—anxiety, depression, and family-related concerns— match regional and national trends. They are encouraged that Lexington residents are taking advantage of the INTERFACE referral service, as well as other forms of assistance and support, and they suspect that adding INTERFACE to Lexington’s arsenal of options has provided a perceived additional layer of anonymity that some find reassuring.


“Certainly, it’s important for families to know that they are not alone in being in need,” Viscosi said. “On the one hand, the number of people utilizing the INTERFACE service is great news. On the other hand, we also know that the incidence of what’s occurring is much greater. There’s a gap between the people that could utilize this and those that are utilizing it.”

While personal information is indeed confidential, broader demographic information shows a variety of caller concerns, across income levels and across age groups. To date, however, the majority of the 137 residents served by INTERFACE have been school-age children, with calls made by parents/caregivers. Viscosi credits these higher response rates to better established communication routes within the School community.

A visitor to the Lexington-specific INTERFACE webpage will discover several valuable resources: a direct phone number for the referral Helpline (888-244-6843), information about many mental different health issues, and a listing of Lexington’s community resources.

Someone calling William James INTERFACE—for themselves or out of concern for someone else—will be asked a series of questions, requiring 15-20 minutes of response time. The goal of the questions is to understand the need at hand, ascertain insurance coverage, and determine logistics such as travel radius and transportation so that mental health care providers can be matched to a particular set of circumstances.

Helpline staff then run the caller’s responses through a provider database, check to ensure the matching providers are still accepting new patients and specific insurance, and then reply to the caller by phone or email with up to three relevant matches. INTERFACE staff also follow up two weeks later to make sure that the caller was able to connect with a provider and to determine how helpful the referrals had been.

Mental Health Steering Committee and Community Advisory Groups

Interess and Viscosi also co-chair Lexington’s Mental Health Task Force Steering Committee, now in its second year. The Steering Committee is composed of Town and School staff, but it benefits greatly from the input of a wide variety of community advisory groups.

“The voices of specific populations come through these advisory groups,” Interess explained.
The Steering Committee has been working with consultants to analyze available data sets and to identify gaps in services. One of these gaps is adult data for Lexington residents 18 years and older.

“There are fewer mechanisms to assess and collect adult data [compared to school-age data], Interess said. “There is probably some State-level data that could allow us to extrapolate down, rather than up, but it might not be representative of Lexington when you consider cultural factors, education levels, different socio-economic strata. We do have many folks living in poverty in Lexington, so it might be comparable to the State, but we just aren’t sure it would be accurate.”

Viscosi added, “The challenge is that adults access services in so many places,” such as private therapy. “That’s not collated anywhere so it’s hard to calculate. Even though there’s prevention programming for the adult population, just like there is for the school-age population, it’s somewhat clearer with youth who is in need of services. But when people self-isolate in their homes— often due to what their challenges are—you’re not really sure who and where they are.”
Interess continued, “We see the active seniors here at Community Center who are doing fitness programs but we don’t see the ones who “age in place” if they stay home. Maybe all their friends are passing away and they don’t have local family. They’re isolating and isolated.”
What’s Ahead
“There’s a lot coming,” Interess said. “We’re working on a lot of things that are going to help pave the way for identifying unmet needs to connect people with programs to help them understand what’s available in the community.”
Viscosi added, “We know there are groups, or subsets of residents, who need more and we want to make sure we’re utilizing the information that’s available to us –or be able to gather information when we need to—so we have a balanced perspective of what the needs are and we can align those to prevention and intervention services. We recognize our [current] limitations. The challenge isn’t adding programs as much as connecting people to existing programs and then taking a strategic look to make sure we have the resources we need, and also to reduce redundancies.”

A major goal the Steering Committee is working on now is a full compendium of Lexington’s mental health resources. This would be in the form of a comprehensive inventory of available services, collected into one place for easier community access.

“This will include services that we provide on a consistent basis but will also give people a place where they can find information about one-off programs specific to mental health, like community-based programs and trainings that are available to interested residents,” Interess explained.

Interess and Viscosi ask the community to say tuned for further developments on this front and to remember, always, that help is just a phone call away.



In a mental health emergency: DIAL 911; go directly to your local emergency room; or call Mental Health Emergency Service Provider, Advocates, at (800) 640-5432 (available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week)

For advice from Lexington Town or School counsellors:
Melissa Interess, Director of Human Services: 781-698-4841
Valerie Viscosi (school year): 781-861-2580 x68079

To access William James INTERFACE information and referral services:
Helpline (888-244-6843)

NOTE: If a community or national crisis occurs, the Town of Lexington and Lexington Schools partner with Riverside Community Care to draft emergency responses and protocols.

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