First Lady Aims to Renew Focus on Youth Mental Health in City Schools

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First Lady Aims to Renew Focus on Youth Mental Health in City Schools

Category:In the News

NY1 FirstLady at PS146

The number of mental health clinics in schools has plunged in recent years, but advocates hope that First Lady Chirlane McCray’s focus on mental health might turn that around. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed this report.

At P.S. 146 in East Harlem on Tuesday, the principal huddled with an assistant principal and two social workers, discussing their response to a student who was suddenly in the throes of a mental health crisis.

Ironically, Principal Mona Silfen had just spent two hours hosting the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, in a discussion of school-based mental health services. The meeting was part of the first lady’s research before the creation of a mental health “road map” for the city this summer, with her input.

“What we’re looking at is really integrating mental health with physical health going forward,” McCray says.

At P.S. 146, where more than half the students have disabilities, 23 percent are homeless and 20 percent are learning English—the mental health clinic is operated by a social service agency called Union Settlement.

“It’s critical. I mean these services are essential at a public school,” Silfen says.

NY1 has learned that a third of the 300 mental health clinics in city schools have been quietly shuttered in recent years, cutting off thousands of students’ access to immediate mental health services, like counseling.

“In the last four years or so, we’ve had to do some downsizing. And part of that had to do with Medicaid management, some changes in the Medicaid laws, some changes in the Office of Mental Health—in terms of clinic restructuring—and lack of funding,” says Scott Bloom, the city director of School Mental Health Services.

Just 200 mental health clinics remain open in schools, though providers told the first lady they are understaffed and underfunded—swamped by the massive mental health needs.

McCray, who has made mental health services a focus of her work as first lady, says she’s committed to getting the numbers back up.

“This is the place to provide services, so they can get the kind of interventions they need,” McCray says.

Opening mental health clinics is already part of the mayor’s plan to turn around 94 struggling schools, and his wife says she hopes to figure out how to do more, saying this is the time to make big changes. The number of mental health clinics in schools has plunged in recent year, but advocates hope that First Lady Chirlane McCray’s focus on mental health might turn that around. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed this report.

At P.S. 146 in East Harlem on Tuesday, the principal huddled with an assistant principal and two social workers, discussing their response to a student who was suddenly in the throes of a mental health crisis.

Ironically, Principal Mona Silfen had just spent two hours hosting the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, in a discussion of school-based mental health services. The meeting was part of the first lady’s research before the creation of a mental health “road map” for the city this summer, with her input.

“What we’re looking at is really integrating mental health with physical health going forward,” McCray says.

At P.S. 146, where more than half the students have disabilities, 23 percent are homeless and 20 percent are learning English—the mental health clinic is operated by a social service agency called Union Settlement.

“It’s critical. I mean these services are essential at a public school,” Silfen says.

NY1 has learned that a third of the 300 mental health clinics in city schools have been quietly shuttered in recent years, cutting off thousands of students’ access to immediate mental health services, like counseling.

“In the last four years or so, we’ve had to do some downsizing. And part of that had to do with Medicaid management, some changes in the Medicaid laws, some changes in the Office of Mental Health—in terms of clinic restructuring—and lack of funding,” says Scott Bloom, the city director of School Mental Health Services.

Just 200 mental health clinics remain open in schools, though providers told the first lady they are understaffed and underfunded—swamped by the massive mental health needs.

McCray, who has made mental health services a focus of her work as first lady, says she’s committed to getting the numbers back up.

“This is the place to provide services, so they can get the kind of interventions they need,” McCray says.

Opening mental health clinics is already part of the mayor’s plan to turn around 94 struggling schools, and his wife says she hopes to figure out how to do more, saying this is the time to make big changes.

By Lindsey Christ
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 11:29 PM EDT


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