Addressing mental health solutions for Bronx youth

The case for finding solutions to the mental health challenges young people of the Bronx face was the focus of two panels Thursday at Bronx Borough Hall. “The State of Mental Health for Bronx Youth” was presented by Partnership with Children, a 115-year-old nonprofit that centers trauma-informed counseling and healing arts throughout New York City, along with Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson. 

The Partnership’s CEO, Wesner Pierre, and chief program officer, Angela Jefferson, took part in the panels, both of which went over the mental health struggles many youths in the Bronx are facing and the ways to solve them. According to a recent report by Montefiore Medical Center, 20% have a mental health disorder, while 10% are severely emotionally disturbed. Pierre also pointed to another study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that showed the Bronx was the unhealthiest county in the state. 

“There’s something going on and these challenges predate COVID,” Pierre said. “ It’s the social determinants of health. It’s the ripple effects of trauma and toxic stress. We see it with chronic absenteeism and low reading and math scores. This is not a COVID story, it’s health equity.”

Pierre added that if mental health were treated better throughout the borough, school attendance would improve, students would engage in class more and have healthier relationships with their teachers. 

The event included Audrey Erazo-Trivino, associate commissioner of the Office of Prevention and Health Initiative of the New York State Office of Mental Health; Carmen Villavicencio-Hein, supervisor of School Social Workers at the New York City Department of Education; and Roshone Ault Lee, principal of the South Bronx Academy for Applied Media. Also there was Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who mentioned that Gov. Kathy Hochul budgeted $20 million earlier this year to go to 137 school-based clinics and another $1.5 million from the State Office of Mental Health to support Mental Health First Aid programs for teens and youth. Delgado also brought up how young people are struggling with their mental health because of social media and the addictive feeds that keep them glued to their social media feeds. He noted how the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the loneliness epidemic by having children deal with their loneliness on their own.

Panel discussions at the event included how to turn school communities into places that strengthen youths’ mental health and also their families, while all three work together as a team to support each other. Other discussions included how to understand that middle and high schoolers are not much different as they were before social media, in terms of being embarrassed easily. 

Pierre praised how important it was for such conversations to be had, but said he also felt it was time to get to work on solving the mental health crisis for Bronx youth. He also mentioned that similar events are planned for the city’s other boroughs.

When asked what should be done for schools lacking the organization to help their community, Pierre paused before smiling. “That’s part of why we exist,” he said, referring to the Partnership. “We bridge that gap. Our staff comes in and helps.”


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