Protecting Our Children’s Mental Health During the Pandemic
Over 150 county officials joined a webinar to discuss mental health challenges posed by the pandemic and what role counties can play in aiding the mental wellbeing of schoolchildren.
Today, over 150 county officials joined a webinar hosted by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), and the Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors (CLMHD), which gathered stakeholders from the mental health and education fields to discuss mental health challenges posed by the pandemic and what role counties can play in aiding the mental wellbeing of schoolchildren.
The webinar was hosted by NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario and NYSSBA Executive Director Robert Schneider and featured presentations from Michael Orth, Director of Community Services for Westchester County; Richelle Gregory, Director of Community Services for Clinton County; Kathleen DeCataldo, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Student Support Services at the NYS Education Department; and Amy Molloy Director of the Resource Center for the Mental Health Association in New York State.
According to statistics from the National Institute of Health presented during the webinar, 1 in 5 youths had a mental health diagnosis prior to pandemic. Of those, the most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders (32%), mood disorders (14%), and substance use disorders (11%). Seventy percent (70%) of youths entering substance treatment have a mental health disorder, and the highest dropout rate for students is among those who have mental health conditions.
“As a parent myself, I know firsthand how challenging the pandemic has been for young people and how critical it is to support students during this extraordinary time,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “Counties play a key role in providing mental health services. It's vital that we raise awareness of mental health struggles facing our students and foster a dialog between state and local officials as well as among community groups to develop an all-hands-on-deck response to this crisis.”
The session offered strategies for promoting mental health, including instituting Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), launching collaborations between county agencies and community partners, creating a System of Care approach, providing emotional care and mental health first aid training for staff, and working with credible messengers to engage youth in communities.
"Counties and community providers are uniquely positioned to help schools plan, develop and coordinate mental health services for children and families. Creating and strengthening thriving partnerships between schools and county-based providers can only help students with mental health needs," said Robert Schneider, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association.
“The magnitude of COVID-19's impact is like nothing we have seen before. On behalf of CLMHD, I applaud both NYSAC and NYSSBA for sponsoring this necessary forum to promote the mental health of all students. It is critical that all systems collaborate to provide students and their families the services and supports essential to cope during these most challenging times,” said Michael Orth, Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health and Co-Chair, CLMHD Child and Family Committee.
“The pandemic has been an especially challenging time for families as students adjust to losing the every-day supports they have in school while facing any number of issues that could have a long-lasting impact on their wellbeing, including the possibility of illness, being separated from or even the death of a loved one,” said New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner Kathleen DeCataldo. “It is especially significant during these unprecedented times that we embrace the importance of tending to students' social and emotional health needs. The Department is committed to working with stakeholders across the state to ensure school and district personnel are aware of services available to students and families and how to access them.”
Additional resources can be found at:
School Mental Health Training Center – www.MentalhealthEDnys.org
Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors – www.clmhd.org
Please reach out to your local Director of Community Service (DCS) to learn more about the resources available in your county.