Submitted on behalf of Deputy Erie County Executive Lisa Chimera
Nationwide, there is strong momentum to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Now, more services than ever are available to assist those who are struggling. Unfortunately – and largely due to the pandemic – we have also seen a drastic increase in chronic mental health conditions, nearly 80% of which emerge in childhood. Studies have shown that the average delay between mental health symptom onset and treatment is 11 years. That’s too long. We must do better for our children to provide early interventions and support.
A goal of Live Well Erie children’s working group is to ensure that children achieve comprehensive health. This includes mental, social and emotional wellbeing. Mental health is just as important to our children’s development as physical health.
In April, our Erie County Office of Health Equity will hold its first public Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, with plans for future youth-specific trainings designed for people who interact with teenagers. MHFA teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The first training is scheduled for April 15 at Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium. The course is free, but registration is required. Contact [email protected] or visit www.erie.gov/mhfa for information.
When discussing common mental health challenges facing our youth, it is important that we involve teachers and other professionals who care for our children. Erie 1 BOCES and public school districts in Erie County are working to provide mental health and social emotional learning tools. The Supporting Mental Health by Advocating for Resources Together (SMART) Collaborative is bringing educators, community agencies and county government representatives together to share best practices across school districts, working together on integrated solutions.
There are many factors that contribute to a child’s mental and emotional development. According to the CDC, among children living below 100% of the federal poverty level, more than 1 in 5 had a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Additionally, a family’s poverty level directly affects the likelihood of children receiving treatment for anxiety, depression or behavior problems.
We must provide support and resources to our young people, especially those who are marginalized. We must provide programs and services to our families experiencing poverty, especially during these difficult times.
Each summer, Erie County offers employment opportunities to youth ages 14-20. Applicants who receive any of the following benefits are automatically income-qualified for the program: Temporary Assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, HEAP, or the youth Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Erie County encourages participation from children in foster care, homeless or runaway youth and youth with disabilities. The eight-week program has proven to be a great benefit to participants, teaching skills to improve school performance and expanding education and career goals. Participants receive mentorship, financial literacy instruction and job retention services. Most importantly, the program provides a sense of self-worth and belonging. Information is available at www.erie.gov/syep.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we have the great opportunity to help our young people, but must work together to do so. We must make concerted efforts to break down social, economic and educational barriers to set all children up for future success. I have great hope that with our current efforts, Erie County will help to lead the way.