Governor Hochul Launches Youth Mental Health Listening Tour to Hear Directly from New York Teens

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants New York teens to assess their mental health needs as she pushes an ambitious plan in Albany to reform the state’s mental health system. On Thursday, Hochul announced that he will hold a series of listening sessions with young people across the state.

“The era of ignoring mental health is over,” Hochul said at a news conference at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in Washington Heights. “We’re going to lean hard on that.”

The first listening session was held just before Thursday’s press conference. But Hochul said he will refuse to go ahead with the tour until the budget is in place. The deadline for a budget in term is April 1.

Representatives from the state Department of Mental Health and Child and Family Services will moderate each forum and convene a “section” of youth from the host community, according to the governor’s office.

Hochul said he also plans to hold a youth mental health summit in May with a wide range of stakeholders, including adolescents and their family members, mental health professionals, law enforcement and technology experts.

The listening tour is part of the governor’s broader response to rising rates of youth mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts. Earlier this month, she met with Latino community leaders Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for a roundtable discussion on equity in access to mental and behavioral health.

The governor noted in Thursday’s announcement that some groups are at higher risk. Black high school students are more likely to attempt suicide than their white, Hispanic or Asian peers, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And LGBTQ teens are three times more likely to consider suicide than their peers.

Hochul’s executive budget proposal includes more than $1 billion to reform mental health services across the state. Youth mental health is a key component of this plan, with $20 million to support mental health services in schools, $10 million for suicide prevention programs targeting at-risk youth, and $12 million to expand the HealthySteps program , which provides support in early childhood developmental issues.

Kay-Danielle Thompson, a Queens teenager who spoke at the event, said having compassionate adults to listen at school is especially important.

“One of the ways I manage my stress is by talking to my guidance counselor,” said Thompson, 17. “I feel connected to Ms. Vega because she’s very attentive and lets me lead the conversation. She doesn’t just follow protocol.

Thompson said she needs to have more staff like her guidance counselor available to listen to students and help them develop coping mechanisms. She added that her sister, who attends a different high school, doesn’t have the same support at school.

Thompson also talked about the need for after-school activities and volunteer opportunities to help teens.

Hochul stressed the need to address the stigma that prevents teenagers from seeking help from their parents or adults at school. Her comments echo concerns that New York City Mayor Eric Adams raised in a plan he announced to improve mental health services earlier this month.

But last year, an audit by the state comptroller’s office found that most schools were failing to hire social workers — even as city and state officials stressed the importance of school mental health services in the wake of COVID-19.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s press conference was held in Washington Heights.

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