July 27, 2023
by Mashrafi Anwar
Earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul kicked off a statewide mental health listening tour dedicated to connecting with the state’s youth to understand their needs and recommendations. The listening tours culminated in a summit in New York City where hundreds of people — including myself — gathered to discuss how to address the youth behavioral health crisis.
I am filled with gratitude for being able to attend the summit, and I strongly support the fovernor’s focus on listening to young people and investing in the youth behavioral health system.
Yet, the summit’s heavy focus on the effects of social media left little room to discuss other major issues impacting youth’s mental health. Many of the strategies presented — like encouraging youth to limit anxiety-inducing content and telling parents to monitor their children’s media content — placed blame on youth and families for how they use social media instead of asking what the root causes of their social media use was, including family stressors, trauma and lack of community resources.
The summit also lacked the voices of those with lived experiences. I was shocked to see only a handful of young people at the conference and only one youth speaker. No one knows our stories better than we do, and having panels led mainly by non-impacted adults fails to capture every aspect of the youth mental health journey.
As a young person of color born and raised in New York who is studying social work, I have experienced mental health disparities firsthand, and have met many youth struggling with mental health needs. The reality is, children and families in our state are waiting for weeks, months, and even years to get the mental health supports they need.
I am part of a statewide Youth/Caregiver Council that meets regularly to discuss how our state can improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth. So many of our members have experienced waiting for months just to get a referral for services, having their child kicked out of school because the resources to support their mental health needs were not available, or being scared of what will happen the longer they go without receiving mental health services. Throughout the state, these stories are multiplied. Death by suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people 15 to 19, and a third of high schoolers report feeling sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks.
Hochul is right. The mental health care of young people has been ignored for far too long, but we have yet to see the investments necessary to prevent the emergence of serious mental health needs.
Earlier this year, Hochul unveiled a one billion dollar mental health investment as part of her state budget proposal, which included some important investments for youth, such as funding for school-based mental health services and new requirements that commercial insurers reimburse school providers at higher rates. But only a small fraction of the $1 billion investment is going to youth, and almost none of it addresses the severe workforce crisis that is driving families onto waitlists and preventing them from accessing care. The 4% Cost of Living Adjustment for human services workers was important, but fell far short of what’s needed as rents and food prices continue to soar.
Families and children can’t access the care they need unless there is someone available to provide it. We need more peer supports, more clinical care, and more trusted professionals in schools and communities. We must also stop meeting the health needs of young people with suspensions and expulsions, yet, for the eighth year in a row, our elected officials failed to pass the Solutions Not Suspension Act. And finally, New York families can’t thrive if the state doesn’t invest in social determinants of health, including housing, economic security, and child care.
Hochul must invest in the full continuum of mental health supports in our state in order to truly help families and children. I am incredibly grateful that our elected officials are listening to the issues affecting our state’s youth. I hope that we can build on the commitments from the governor and other state leaders to make real, meaningful changes in communities. It is imperative that these recommendations are driven by youth and families, and that major, long-term investments are made in prevention, treatment and services that families desperately need.
New York families can’t afford to wait any longer.
Mashrafi Anwar is a New York social work student and the youth council leader of the Campaign for Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids Youth and Caregiver Council.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Kathy Hochul’s priority to put youth mental health needs investment