ALBANY — The need to strengthen mental health services for public-school
students has emerged as a major priority of classroom administrators across
The New York State Council of School Superintendents concluded from an
annual statewide survey of its members that enhancing services to deal with
the emotional well-being of students has become their most widely cited
The recognition that more resources are needed to provide such services
where they don’t already exist and to strengthen programs where they do
operate comes as school districts are already gearing up to comply with a
related state mandate that takes effect next July.
That’s when schools must show they are offering mental health services, as
required by a measure embraced by state lawmakers last year.
The effort to bolster such services can’t be completed soon enough, said
Glenn Liebman, director of the Mental Health Association of New York State.
He said there is evidence the influence of social media and technology in
the lives of students has contributed to elevated levels of anxiety and
depression among youth.
“We see this perfect storm because we just don’t see enough attention being
paid to the need for youth mental health services,” Liebman said in an
*A report issued Friday by the Mental Health Association noted that 22
percent of youths ages 13 to 18 experience some form of serious mental
*It also said half of all chronic mental-health conditions begin by age 14
and that half of all lifetime cases of anxiety disorders begin as early as
“If these statistics seem startling,” the report said, “it’s because the
reality of when most mental illnesses begin is obscured from our view
because most of us don’t recognize the signs and symptoms when they appear,
ignore them or mistakenly confuse them with other characteristics of
adolescence, such as changes associated with puberty.”
Mark Laurrie, superintendent of the Niagara Falls City School District,
said the mental-health challenges for students have increased in recent
years for a combination of reasons.
“We are living in a society where the family has totally broken down,”
Laurrie said. “The opioid and addiction crisis keeps getting worse.
“The kids get their information from the phone and the media, and it’s not
always good information.”
As a result, he said, “More kids are living in trauma and observing trauma.
Whether it’s from violence in the family, violence in the home, violence on
television, violence on their phone, the stress level has been rising.
“The problem was prevalent before, but at least now we’re talking about it.
To talk about it is not as stigmatizing as it once was.”
Laurrie said Gateway Longview, a community mental-health agency, now offers
its services to children in four of his elementary schools. In addition, a
mobile community mental health van is about to start serving the district’s
Reached at his office in Delhi, Delaware Academy School Supt. Jason Thomson
said that candid dialogues about mental-health issues are encouraged in his
“You have to talk about difficult things, and you have to do proactive,
preventive programs,” Thomson said. “We’re talking about children’s lives
Inspired by the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” about a teenage girl who
commits suicide, several of his high-school students pitched an idea that
was quickly embraced by administrators. Calling their program “13 Reasons
Why Not,” students have been taking turns sharing their stories about
challenges they have overcome and thanking those who’ve helped them cope
with their struggles.
Thomson said the program will be outlined in detail the week of Oct. 23 to
educators who are now pre-doctoral students at the College of St. Rose in
The State Office of Mental Health, meanwhile, says it operates clinics, day
treatment programs and mobile integration teams targeted toward school
Licensed mental health programs have increased their satellite sites at
schools to provide counseling to youngsters, said agency spokesman James
The mental health agency also has a Suicide Prevention Office that offers
awareness and prevention training for teachers, along with a program called
Sources of Strength. A team from the University of Rochester has been
bringing Sources of Strength to rural school districts, where suicide rates
are highest, Plastiras said.
Liebman said he and others in the mental health field appreciate the
efforts by the Office of Mental Health and the State Department of
Education to address the needs. But he contended more resources are needed
throughout the state.
“There are some school districts where there is one social worker for 600
kids,” he said.
“We see this influx of kids who have challenges, and yet we’re not seeing
the supports and services that are needed.
“We don’t care where the funding comes from,” he added. “We just want to
see it get to where it is needed.”