You can’t have a conversation about the challenges facing young people today without talking about mental health. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 6,600 teens and young adults died by suicide in 2020, and it’s no surprise that the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on youth mental health in December.
As chair of the state Senate’s Committee on Mental Health, I have heard countless stories from students, parents, educators, and mental health professionals reflecting the dire situation many young people find themselves in.
Recently, my office held our Second Annual “Students Speak Out” community town hall style event, designed to create a platform for young people to speak about their experiences with mental health and the changes they think need to be made.
With more than 140 people in attendance at this virtual event, we learned about problems that span school districts, race, and socio-economic status. We heard from students frustrated about staff turnover (one middle schooler talked about having three separate counselors over one school year). Others shared that more needs to be done to break the stigma surrounding mental health, especially with boys and young men, and that there need to be options for students to access care remotely from a location of their choosing.
It is clear that the losses and social changes associated with the pandemic are serious–and that’s why I’ve introduced legislation to help. There are three key barriers keeping young people from getting needed mental health support:
■ The first barrier facing our youth is not having enough mental health providers to meet the current need. My legislation, S5301A, sponsored in the Assembly by Harry Bronson, D-138th, would modernize the profession by allowing mental health professionals like family therapists and mental health counselors to diagnose and develop treatment plans, making it easier for families to find a provider, without needing to wait months for help.
■ The second barrier is finding help in a moment of crisis. Last year, New York passed landmark legislation to implement a 9-8-8 mental health and substance abuse lifeline to connect people in crisis with compassionate care. This year, I introduced the Student Lifeline Act, S8410A, sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblymember Sarah Clark, D-136th, which would require the 9-8-8 number to be printed on every high school and college student ID card so students know what resources are available at their fingertips.
■ Lastly, we must make sure that young people have access to mental health professionals. S8277, sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblymember Anna Kelles, D-125th would offer five free tele-mental health appointments to any youth in New York. With the current shortage of providers, we can’t wait for schools to add more social workers and psychologists, or for more providers to enter the field, when many young people have already waited months for an initial appointment. Young people need access to mental health services now.
We must continue to work together to ensure that our young people have the resources and support they need to live safe, healthy lives. They’re counting on us.
Sen. Samra Brouk, D-55th District, is chair of the state Senate Committee on Mental Health.
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