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Hochul proposes $1 billion to boost statewide mental health services in wake of pandemic

Gov. Kathy Hochul presented her plan to invest $1 billion in mental health resources on Thursday.
Still of livestreamed broadcast provided by the governor's office
Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her plan to invest $1 billion in mental health resources on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing for $1 billion worth of mental health services across New York state, with a strong focus on addressing the needs of children and teens.

“We need more services in our schools, full stop, and that's how we start dealing with young people, before they get to a point where they need a lifetime of care,” Hochul said Thursday. “You help them when they're starting out in life. ... So when stress comes their way, and it always will, that they know how to deal with it.”

Of the funding sought by Hochul, $30 million would go to school-based mental health services across the state and $10 million would go to suicide prevention, Hochul said.

Kai-Danielle Thompson, 17, said over the past couple of years, many youths have struggled with isolation, drug abuse and managing their emotions.

“Sometimes, we are not comfortable with talking to staff or peers and we have a hard time connecting in general,” Thompson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in three teenage girls has considered committing suicide since 2021.

It is urgent that children and teens have access to trained professionals, said social work scholar Michael Lindsey.

Of nearly 150,000 teens across the state who have been identified as having depression, more than half have not received any treatment in the last year.

“Untreated, mental illness can have long-lasting effects on a teenager's life,” Lindsey said. “High school students with depression are more than two times as likely to drop out of school than their peers.

“Sadly, some of our children are hurting so much so that they are contemplating ending their lives,” he added. “And occasionally, they follow through with it.”

Public schools are the main provider of behavioral health services in the country, Lindsey said, adding that youths are 21 times more likely to seek mental health care when services are available in schools.

“The best way to connect our youth to treatment and care is to provide services in the places they learn and live,” he said.

Hochul said the $1 billion allocation of state funds would also go to making more psychiatric hospital beds available, expanding outpatient services, building 3,500 supportive housing units, and ensuring insurance companies are accountable for covering mental health care costs.

Ever since the 1970s, when a deinstitutionalization movement was answered by government policies that shut down asylums, Hochul said mental health care went from mistreatment to neglect.

“We started seeing people on our streets, in the throes of mental illness and crises without support,” Hochul said Thursday. “That does not mean what they're getting inside those institutions was appropriate … but the alternative of benign neglect, and saying you're on your own, was an epic failure as well.”

Fifty years and one pandemic later, she said that era must come to an end.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.