Video: Dean Lindsey Speaks on Panel at NYS Youth Mental Health Summit
From left: Dean Michael A. Lindsey; Isaiah Santiago, Peer and Young Adult Mentor; Rebecca Benghiat, The Jed Foundation; Sharon Hoover, National Center for School Mental Health; Marc Brackett, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Kyle Belokopitsky, New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers
NEW YORK, NY, June 20, 2023 — To meet the need posed by the youth mental health crisis, we must increase the pipeline of qualified mental health professionals to work in our schools, including social workers, said NYU Silver School of Social Work Dean Michael A. Lindsey on June 15 at New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s Youth Mental Health Summit. “I really call on our officials to help us to meet this need by understanding that we cannot underinvest in supplying the workforce and meeting the need, because our kids are crying for help.”
One way that NYU Silver is developing the pipeline is by making a social work education easier to obtain, said Dean Lindsey. Responding to student feedback, the school intends to align the number of hours that graduate students spend in practicum education (or internships) to the 900 hours that are required by Council on Social Work Education by Fall 2024. Right now, MSW students at NYU Silver and most schools of social work in the region spend 1,200 hours in internships, most of which are not paid. Reducing the internship hours will give the students more time for compensated employment and self-care, said Dean Lindsey, thereby enabling a more diverse student body to pursue their master of social work degree and subsequent licensure.
The summit, which followed the Governor’s statewide listening tour with teens on the issues impacting their mental health, featured national experts in mental health, education, technology, and law enforcement, as well as parents, caregivers, and youth themselves. More than 1,000 stakeholders attended the event, which was held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.
“Teenagers are facing a crisis like never seen before in the history of this country,” said Governor Hochul in opening remarks. She recalled a time when adults were merely worried about their kids binge drinking, drunk driving, and smoking. “Today,” she said “it’s so much deeper. It’s anxiety, it’s depression, and it’s suicide. If you look at the statistics, they’re absolutely staggering.”
Governor Hochul reflected on what she heard on her listening tour, noting, “’We need professionals in our schools’ is what these kids said, ’and not one mental health counselor for a school of 700.’”
The Enormity of the Need
Speaking on the panel “Classroom Well-being: A Discussion on Student and Educator Mental Health,” Dean Lindsey noted that while overall one in five youth are coming to school with mental health issues, you have to multiply that by three or four times in marginalized communities facing poverty and associated violence. “We have not sufficiently supplied the workforce to be able to address that need,” he said. “We are underpaying mental health providers, we are understaffing mental health needs requisite to the challenge that we’re facing, and it is a crisis.” He also cited the need for the people providing mental health services in schools to be reflective of those school communities so they can understand students’ circumstances.
The Importance of Youth Engagement
Isaiah Santiago, a 19-year-old peer and young adult mentor on the panel, stressed the importance of engaging young people to address the youth mental health crisis. “A lot of times what we see is old policies dealing with new issues in our society,” he said. “In order for us to progress…we have to [be allowed] to move forward with new policies to deal with the new issues that we face. Who is better to have at the table to understand these new issues than the young people?” He called for more action plans and said even if action isn’t possible right away, young people need to see a collaborative plan.
Academics and Mental Health Not an Either/Or
It’s a myth that schools have to choose between focusing on academics or student well-being, said Dr. Marc Brackett, Founding Director of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “We’ve had 30 to 40 years of research which shows that integrating social and emotional learning into a school leads to great outcomes and we know that definitively.”
Dean Lindsey echoed Dr. Brackett, saying “the literature is replete with examples of how when you address mental health issues, you increase the likelihood of an opportunity for that child to do well in school. So we never, ever should lose sight of the critical goal that we all are aligned on, which is we want academic and social success for children, and mental health is a huge part of that.”
National Center for School Mental Health co-Director Dr. Sharon Hoover noted that her center was charged by federal funders with establishing best practices for integrating mental health care in schools. “First and foremost,” she said, “is teaming with partners and stakeholders,” including youth and families. “We really encourage principals, superintendents, school boards, etc., to bring everybody to the table, including our community health and behavioral health partners.”
Parents Need Help Too
Parents and families are very worried about their kids, said Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director of the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers. She cited a survey her organization did finding that high percentages of parents were concerned about their children having anxiety and depression, being at risk of being bullied, and experiencing thoughts of suicide.
While most parents and families reported having frequent conversations about mental health with their children, over half of them said they need help having those conversations. “So that’s why having these conversations in your schools and communities is so important,” Ms. Belokopitsky said. Our parents and families need help.”
Clinicians also need help, added Dean Lindsey. “We’re walking around dealing with so much in our personal lives and then trying to be available and ready to support people sitting across from us...so it’s quite important for us to take care of ourselves.” To help clinicians prioritize their own well-being, he said, NYU Silver is offering an eight-week, continuing education course on compassion care, that helps clinicians focus on attunement to themselves. The school’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and the technical assistance centers it runs also provide free trainings about supervision and ways clinicians can be supportive of each other.
“The future of our society and the youth that are now growing up is going to depend on how well we address the mental health concerns that they are challenged with on a day-to-day basis,” said Dean Lindsey. “Every school should have a mental health provider proportionate to the number of kids in the school. I also think that we need to expand the concept or notion of what it means to have mental health…it’s not always about crisis, but how we look at the attainment of health, our mental health and emotional well-being.”