The solution to the crisis in the hearts and heads of our teenagers

[anvplayer video=”5176373″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The mental health crisis with our teenagers is complicated. Part of the solution is not.

It is as simple as talking to them and asking questions. But, not just once in a while. It’s an everyday thing.

News10NBC is talking about this because of our investigation into the hearts and heads of teenagers. We compared answers in the county’s bi-annual survey of teens over the last 10 years, and they tell us the number one problem is mental health.

Many schools use the answers we studied to change who they hire. 

According to the survey, 10 years ago 20% of teens said they felt sad and hopeless everyday for two weeks.

Now that number is 35%. And for girls it’s 42%.

Brean: “What does it tell you?”
Kern, Public Health Program Coordinator: “It tells me youth are struggling.”

Kern is the person who runs the Monroe County Public Health Department’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

In 2021, 19,282 students between 14 and 18 years old answered personal, probing questions about their families, sex, drugs, violence, and mental health.

The latest report says there is an increase in the percentage of girls who seriously considered attempting suicide and who made a specific plan to do it.

Brean: “What’s the solution?”
Kate Zobkiw, school drug and alcohol counselor: “If I could give parents one piece of advice it’s just talk to your kids and it can’t be a one-time conversation. Repeatedly ask your kids how are you doing? How are things affecting you? What are your friends saying at school?”

Zobkiw is the drug and alcohol counselor at Spencerport schools.

“Kind of be relentless,” says Zobkiw. “Be kind in your questions but be relentless in continuing to bring up the conversation. Its can’t be a one-time conversation.”

As we went in-depth into the survey’s answers on mental health we found another troubling thing. Sixty percent of LGBTQ students felt sad and hopeless everyday over a two week period and 27% made a suicide plan.

Trevor Pettit is one of the top students at Spencerport high school. He’s going to Syracuse University next year. He talked to Berkeley Brean about a friend of his who is transitioning.

“That transition over the greater half of the year has definitely taken a toll on him,” says Pettit. “So I definitely have intensified my relationship with that person over the past year and it’s provided me insight into people who truthfully don’t have it as easy as I do.”

Brean: “When you compare the studies and you look at mental health, and the trend is going like this (up), can we get it to go like this (down)?”
Zobkiw: “I’d like to think so. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was possible.”

Zobkiw says the surveys show their work has decreased the number of teens who use cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol.

“Which really shows us that our prevention efforts have worked over the years,” she said.

Schools use the risk behavior report to make decisions. Ten years ago Spencerport had 13 counselors. Next school year it will be 16.

Here are responses we received from other school districts:

Brighton: In the 2011-12 school year, we had 13 counselors and 3 social workers throughout the district. This year, we have 16.2 counselors and 5 social workers throughout the district.

Gates-Chili: Gates Chili added seven (7) permanent counselors or social workers between 2019-2021. These folks include a counselor at each elementary school and a social worker at three of our schools. These additions to staff were all based on mental health needs (all pre-pandemic but were a result of increased mental health needs). YRBS results (done bi-annually) indicate a need for increased support due to the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which cause students to experience symptoms of trauma.

Penfield: Yes, we have increased our staffing to provide additional support for students. We have added two K-12 social workers and two elementary social workers (4 total) to our Penfield CSD staff. In addition, we have contracted with the Center for Youth to provide one additional social worker at each of our six schools (6 total). Finally, our budget for the 2023-24 school year includes an additional school psychologist.

HF-L: In 2011, the District had eight Counselors Grades 2-12, three Psychologist, and no social workers. Many additions have been added over the past 10 years. The District now has nine Counselors Grades K-12, four Psychologists, one social worker, BOCES Family Life Educational Counseling Services (M1BOCES), Delphi Rise Prevention and School Based Counseling Program, a float nurse and the District added an assistant principal to both Manor Elementary and HF-L High School.

Greece: Since 2020 we have added the following positions (these represent new hires only and are not inclusive of staff who were in these job titles prior to 2020):

1 behavior consultant

1 behavior interventionist

1.5 school counselors

2 school nurses

4 school social workers

In addition to our own GCSD mental health team members, our district also has 5.6 FTE (full-time equivalent) counselors employed by Genesee Mental Health working in our schools to provide in-school therapy and support for students

Rush Henrietta: In order to support our efforts, we have increased the number of mental health staff in our buildings over the past several years. Each of our K-3 buildings has a psychologist and social worker on staff, and there are two counselors who support those four buildings. Both of our 4-6 buildings have a counselor, psychologist, and social worker on staff. Our junior highs have a counselor for each grade level, plus a psychologist and 1.5 social workers. The high school has six counselors, two psychologists, and three social workers – one of whom focuses on substance abuse counseling.

West Irondequoit: We have added 3 behavioral specialists and social workers over the last couple years. That’s a specific as HR is going to be.

East Rochester: Since 2011, East Rochester School District has added four Counselors and converted two Teacher Assistant positions to Youth Assistants who provide support for student management.

Victor: In 2011, we had approximately 4,000 students and 7 school counselors with 1 social worker. Next school year we will have approximately 4300 students and 16 school counselors with 6 social workers.

Several school districts, including Webster, Fairport and Pittsford failed to respond or refused to participate.

Brean: “So if we’re looking at problems and concerns and we’re trying to figure out solutions one of them is just talk to kids.”
Anne Kern: “And show them that you care.”

Kern says children with caring adults, who are encouraged at school and feel like they matter, tend to have fewer mental health problems.

If there’s a good thing in the survey it’s this: when asked if they have someone to talk to and are encouraged and feel like they matter, a majority of students answered yes.