New-York News

Council leans on peer support to address city’s $100M youth mental health crisis

City leaders are ramping up efforts to address youth mental illness by looking to peer-led efforts and student support groups.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams previewed four proposals to address the youth mental health crisis in her State of the City address on Wednesday, all of which draw on peer support to build up preventive care. She emphasized that youth are the “next phase” of the Council’s Mental Health Roadmap — a $92 million effort to bolster the city’s behavioral health workforce, expand preventive services and re-examine reliance on the criminal justice system.

Adams said that mental health is among the biggest challenges facing New York City kids. One in every six children in the city experience a mental illness, and suicide has become the second-leading cause of death, she added.

The new proposals aim to build up preventive mental health services for school-aged kids through a peer-to-peer support model. Later this year the Council plans to introduce laws that establish a framework for mental health clubs — student-led groups designed to combat social isolation and encourage kids to talk about mental health. As a part of this initiative, the Council also plans to propose a pilot program where students from CUNY’s School of Social Work oversee school wellness groups.

Adams’ emphasis on peer-led approaches is the latest city-led effort to address youth mental health challenges. Last month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined a lawsuit against social media companies TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat alleging that they contribute to youth mental health challenges – a crisis that the city spends $100 million on each year, he said. The city Health Department also entered a $26 million contract with Upper West Side-based teletherapy company Talkspace in November to provide a “digital front door” for every city kid seeking therapy.

Dr. Jennifer Havens, chair of the department of adolescent and youth psychiatry at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, said that the peer-led initiatives have a place in the city’s offerings but added that the model is another “light-touch” effort to an epidemic that has reached crisis levels. She said more resources are needed to build up outpatient clinics that improve services for kids and their families.

“We have a really hobbled clinical care system, where kids have to go to the ER to get care,” Havens said. “That’s not something you manage with light-touch, or peer-to-peer efforts.”

City Council spokesperson Rendy Desamours said that peer-led efforts are one piece of the Council’s approach to addressing kids’ mental health, and added that the Council supports expanding services from psychologists, social workers and school-based mental health clinics.

Although peer-led models can help students with situational mental illnesses, they are not adequate to serve kids who have experienced traumas, Kayleigh Zaloga, president and CEO of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health.

Havens said that city and state investments in outpatient care should also address inadequate reimbursement rates that make it difficult for providers to sustain a business and detract clinicians from the field.

She also added that the city should make further investments in initiatives such as the Mental Health Continuum – a $5 million clinical effort involving the public hospital system, Department of Education and the Council to get social workers into high-need schools to treat at-risk children.

The Council is still determining what investments it needs to expand peer services in schools, Desamours said. City Council leaders plan to introduce legislation to build peer-led services later this year.

Amanda D'Ambrosio , 2024-03-14 09:33:03

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