Peers Offer Helping Hand Amid Youth Depression Epidemic

·5 min read

RYE, NY — Recent studies leave no doubt that young people are suffering through a previously unseen mental health crisis. In one Hudson Valley community, it is the young people who are on the front lines of a fight to save a generation of children.

The Rye Youth Council, a local nonprofit that supports the social, emotional, and mental health of young people, launched an innovative "Youth Mental Health Initiative" to address the rapidly expanding need for mental health care and resources for youths and their families. The group is offering direct clinical counseling and support, including a student-led depression awareness campaign and training for local adults in youth mental health first aid.

Organizers point to a 2020 Mental Health America report concluding that young people ages 11 to 17 were more likely than any other age group to score high for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. Compared to 2019, mental health related visits to hospital emergency departments increased by 31 percent for 12–17-year-olds in 2020. Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth: suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24, according to the same study.

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These are issues the Rye Youth Council is seeking to address.

"Supporting the mental health and wellness of our young people in Rye is critically important," Rye City School District Superintendent Eric Byrne said. "Through our partnership with the Rye Youth Council, we continue to make huge strides in building the foundation for strong mental health support structures in the school. The Rye Youth Council has delivered expert training, curricular support and leadership as new programs such as P2P and Mental Health First Aid equip our faculty, staff and students in providing support to the community."

In partnership with the Rye City School District and RyeACT, RYC brings the new Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness (P2P) program launched at Rye High School this month. Developed by the University of Michigan’s Eisenberg Family Depression Center, P2P is the recipient of the 2019 American Psychiatric Association’s Gold Award and is built on the premise that many mental health disorders first present themselves during adolescence and teens are more likely to listen to other teens than well-meaning adults.

The new P2P program at Rye High School will support students in finding creative ways to help share a better understanding about depression and depressive illnesses with their peers to reduce stigma, raise awareness and encourage help-seeking when needed.

“As a result of the P2P program, we anticipate RHS students will be more confident in their ability to identify someone who is showing common signs of depression and to help them access appropriate in-school mental health support services,” Rye Youth Council Director Lisa Dominici said.

The Rye High School peer-to-peer group includes 16 students under the guidance of faculty mentors. Training and support for the P2P groups are provided by the University of Michigan Eisenberg Center staff, in collaboration with Rye Youth Council and RyeACT.

The new RYC Mental Health Initiative is made possible with funding from The Maddie Fund, a charitable fund created in memory of Madeline Hart Pollard, who passed away in 2019 after a heart-breaking battle with bipolar depression.

“Our family created The Maddie Fund as a means of continuing to do the work that Maddie herself had begun to do and was studying to do — helping others who are suffering from mental illness," Anne Pollard said. " While The Maddie Fund supports several regional and national organizations promoting mental health and wellness, it was important to us to find a way to make a difference in our community where Maddie grew up."

The Rye High School peer-to-peer group includes 16 students under the guidance of faculty mentors. (Rye Youth Council)
The Rye High School peer-to-peer group includes 16 students under the guidance of faculty mentors. (Rye Youth Council)

With support from The Maddie Fund, RYC hired a part-time licensed clinical social worker to create a social work/mental health counseling internship program and provide critical mental health services, support, and resources for youth and families in the community.

"To combat this growing crisis, the Rye Youth Council has launched a mental health initiative that includes mental health counseling at little to no cost, effectively eliminating the cost barrier to care," Dominici explained. "At a time when most local clinicians are at capacity and unable to take on new clients, RYC is an important resource to which families can turn for help."

Led by RYC Social Work Supervisor, Linda Tillmon, the new RYC Restore Counseling Service offers three to six months of free or low-cost counseling for youth ages 10 to 22.

Tillmon also serves on the Westchester County Suicide Prevention Task Force and is a certified instructor in the evidence-based Suicide Safety for Teachers training.

To further expand support of youth mental health, both Dominici and RyeACT Coalition Coordinator Nancy Pasquale became certified instructors in Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is designed to teach parents, family members, and other adults how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.

Dominici and Pasquale have trained more than 90 adults to identify typical adolescent development and learn about common mental and behavioral health challenges for youth including anxiety, depression, substance use, ADHD, psychosis, and eating disorders.

“Our goal is to train a critical mass of adults in the community who are equipped to help young people get the support and care they need," Dominici explained.

Parents can seek counseling, information, and referrals to other local mental health resources by calling the RYC Restore phone line (914-222-0988) or sending a confidential email (

This article originally appeared on the Rye Patch

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