NY Gov. Hochul talks teen mental health as she promotes budget plan

ALBANY — Gov. Hochul addressed New York teens Thursday as she touted mental health investments included in her $227 billion executive budget proposal.

The governor said she discussed access to care and the struggles students face in the wake of the pandemic and the proliferation of social media following a listening session in Manhattan.

“I have declared the era of ignoring mental health is over... and we’re going to lean hard into this,” she said following the event at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “We need more services in our schools, full stop.”

Hochul is proposing annual grants that would help cover the costs of creating school-based services and she wants to require private insurers to pay the Medicaid rate for services students receive. Private companies typically pay below the Medicaid rate.

According to the governor’s office, another part of Hochul’s plan would see a $20 million expansion of mental health services in schools by increasing Medicaid payment rates for school-based satellite clinics and a $10 million investment to expand school-based wraparound services.

That would include an annual investment to provide start-up funding to get new and expanded school services up and running.

The plan allocates $12 million for expanding “HealthySteps,” a pediatric primary care program that supports healthy early childhood development, and home-based crisis intervention teams.

Hochul is also seeking $10 million in grants for suicide prevention programs targeting high-risk youth.

The governor said she is planning similar listening sessions across the state as well as a larger summit sometime this spring “to help break down the barriers and the stigma and let more people talk about it.”

Hochul’s office noted that last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found alarming mental health trends among school-aged youth between 2011 and 2021 — especially among teen girls.

Nearly a third of teen girls seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, an increase from 19% the prior decade. About three in five felt persistently sad or hopeless — twice the rate of teen boys and a nearly 60% increase over the rate recorded in 2011 — per the survey.

The governor is calling for $1 billion total to expand access to mental health care, bolster supportive housing and outpatient services across the state and boost the number of outreach teams making contact with at-risk New Yorkers.

Kay Danielle Thompson, a 17-year-old senior at Hillcrest High School in Queens, joined the governor Thursday to discuss school-based mental health providers.

“Having staff, not just guidance counselors, who know how to support young people are very important,” the teen said. “Staff like mental health providers, school psychologists, teachers, case workers, social aides, school safety and much more need to be trained on how to engage youth to succeed whether they struggle or not.

“If you help them while they’re not struggling, you can prevent them from struggling,” she added.