New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is convening a listening...

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is convening a listening tour throughout the state with students, parents and teachers to focus on the mental health of youth.  Credit: AP/John Minchillo

State officials will tour the region this spring, including on Long Island, hosting listening sessions on the issues impacting the mental health of area youth, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.

The move comes as Hochul attempts to build support for her 2024 proposed budget, which includes more than $1 billion over the next five years to overhaul the state's mental health system.

"It's been overlooked for a long time," Hochul said of mental health during the first listening session at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in Manhattan. "But right now, our nation and our state are in the middle of a mental health crisis. And it's impacting all New Yorkers."

Teens from New York City schools Thursday discussed how the pandemic impacted their mental health; the role social media has played in their lives; how schools can promote wellness with students and the types of mental health programs they'd like to see at school. 

Kay Daniel Thompson, a senior at Hillcrest High School in Queens, said she'd like to see more investment in school guidance counselors.

"We're not really taught how to manage our stress or how we can do it in a healthy manner," Thompson said. "Over the past couple of years, some of the top things that youth have struggled with is isolation, which is how we try to cope with whatever stress we're feeling, drug abuse, unfortunately, and managing our emotions in a healthy manner."

The listening sessions will be coordinated by the State Office of Mental Health and the Office of Children and Family Services and will involve a cross section of school-age youth from each host community, officials said.

The sessions will culminate in May with a summit on youth mental health and wellness with students, parents, teachers, mental health experts, technology leaders and law enforcement experts, Hochul said.

"I’m thrilled that our governor will be able to hear firsthand from kids and families who are struggling post-COVID with epic levels of anxiety and depression," said Jeff Reynolds, president of the Family & Children’s Association in Mineola. "There are sizable gaps in care, especially here on Long Island where there’s a shortage of social workers [and] psychiatrists, and overwhelmed and underfunded community-based organizations have waiting lists.”

Hochul said her budget proposal includes more than $30 million to expand school-based mental health services across the state, $10 million for suicide prevention, and additional funding focused on eating disorders and at-home crisis intervention.

Reynolds called the funding "historic" but said "actually getting those dollars into communities in a timely and strategic way is essential. Once that’s done, perhaps we can get health insurers to pay their fair share and properly pay for conditions that occur above the neck.”

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