Hochul Op-Ed on Youth MH Crisis in Daily News

June 25, 2023

New York’s pledge on youth mental health crisis

Kathy Hochul, June 25, Daily News

On June 15, I was proud to gather more than 1,000 people at New York’s first-ever Youth Mental Health Summit, where I was joined by advocates who care deeply about fixing the unprecedented mental health challenges many children and teenagers face. The presence of so many at the summit — including national mental health experts, youth advocates and providers, parents and caregivers, educators, and others — made a statement that we collectively understand the magnitude of this crisis, the pain it’s causing, and the kids who need our help.

It also gave me hope that we are a caring state who can work together to be a part of the solution.

Children and teenagers are facing a crisis unlike anything this country has ever seen before. Today, mental health challenges run deep, as our youth face staggering rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. According to the CDC, 42% — almost half of all high school students — feel persistently sad or hopeless. And 22%, particularly high school girls, have considered that the alternative to life would be better.

Among LGBTQ youth, who have increasingly become the targets of politically motivated attacks from far-right extremists, the numbers are even more jarring. Almost 70% of LGBTQ kids feel persistently sad or hopeless. Among them, 37% have made a suicide plan.

Suicide rates among Black youth are reaching alarming rates, rising 37% between 2018 and 2021. Concerningly, those numbers do not weigh the full effects of the pandemic, which impacted the mental health of children and teenagers in ways we do not yet fully comprehend.

These numbers are chilling, and as the first mother to govern the State of New York — and someone who has seen kids in pain — they are personal. More than anything, the statistics are a worrying reminder that what we’ve been doing is simply not enough.

For too long, we have underinvested in mental health care, and the decades of ignoring this crisis, especially in schools, led us to a critical point, which was only exasperated further by COVID, a national gun violence epidemic, and an increased reliance on social media for connectivity.

Having spoken to kids and hearing their heartbreaking stories of isolation, fear, and loss, they have consistently made it clear: they need more help. They need more mental health professionals in schools, not one counselor for a school with 700 students. They need to learn in an environment free from the fear of gun violence, which has become the leading cause of death for children and teens. They need training to discuss the power of social media and its impact on mental health in smart, thoughtful ways.

More than anything, they need all of us to step up and take action to implement bold, common-sense measures that can mitigate this crisis.

Beginning this year, my administration took the first step in establishing meaningful solutions to this crisis by ending years of underinvestment in mental health care. We are overhauling the entire system with a long-term, $1 billion investment to provide services for all levels of need, prevent people from falling through the cracks, and ensure everyone gets care on a continuous basis. Additionally, we announced a historic $34.5 billion investment in education and $347 million in gun violence prevention funding, allowing us to take well-rounded, comprehensive approaches to assisting our youth.

Further, we are going to define specifically what future policies New York can implement while pushing other states and the federal government to follow our lead. These should include measures to stop social media from preying on our kids and reduce its influence on their mental health, embed professionals in the communities most heavily impacted by this crisis (e.g., LGBTQ, Black, and Latino communities), and invest in nation-leading mental health research programs to help inform future policy decisions.

Finally, we will continue to work directly with those impacted by this crisis: young people. After hosting listening tours with kids and teenagers throughout the state and gathering so many committed New Yorkers at our Youth Mental Health Summit, the importance of young voices helping shape the conversation could not be clearer, and it will be essential for them to be at the forefront as we devise new policies.

These critical actions are just the beginning. They are a vow to take on the hard questions, give unconventional answers, and challenge the status quo on mental health. More simply, they are a promise to do better.

Together, with the thousands who gathered and lent their voices at the summit — and the millions of others for whom this issue is so personal —— I believe that we can accomplish better starting today.

Hochul is governor of New York.