Let’s focus on the mental well-being of our children

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By Laurie Goganzer
President and CEO
YMCA of Greater Monmouth County

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of people of all ages and backgrounds, especially our children and teens, who have experienced extraordinary disruptions.

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Nearly 10%, or more than 2.3 million youths in the United States have severe major depression, up 126,000 since the pandemic, with numbers even higher among children of color, according to The State of Mental Health in America, a recent study conducted by Mental Health America.

Here in central New Jersey, our YMCA, which provides extensive mental health counseling and social services, is seeing an alarming rise in the need for mental health support among youths and teens, and we expect the trend to continue well into the new school year.

Throughout the coronavirus health crisis, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County has worked closely with public school officials, the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, the Mental Health Association, the Boys and Girls Club and other partnering organizations to address the growing mental health needs of our youths.

As a nonprofit organization, our YMCA is grateful for community partners and support from funders to provide holistic community health programs and services that strengthen the overall well-being of children and families.

However, together, we can do more to ensure our children and teens have the vital supports they need to grow healthy and strong mentally, emotionally, socially and developmentally through the lingering pandemic and beyond.

Here are four ways our community can come together to improve mental health outcomes for our young people:

• Expand access to mental health care – One of the best ways to reach children and teens is in the comfort and convenience of their schools. If we offer more outpatient mental health services on school campuses, we can provide easy and equitable access to care and remove transportation barriers for families;

• Increase mental health training – Educators and youth-serving organizations need training to appropriately identify and respond to signs of mental health issues. Teachers and youth counselors are often the first adults children turn to in times of distress or crisis. Equipping them with the right tools can help them address children’s critical needs;

• Advocate for mental health funding – Reach out to your local elected officials for funding to support mental health education and services that increase accessibility for youths and teens;

• Recognize mental health signs and when to seek help – We all need to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of distress such as changes in mood, behavior, eating and sleeping patterns, loss of interest, increases in risky or reckless behaviors and thoughts of death or suicide.

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health or a child you know, reach out to the Y at 732-290-9040. If it is an emergency, call 911 or Mobile Response at 1-877-653-7624.

Now, more than ever, children and families need the community’s commitment and support for expanded mental health services. Together, we can prevent a mental health pandemic.

Laurie Goganzer is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County, which delivers youth development, healthy living and social service programs to approximately 35,000 people in central New Jersey. Since the start of the pandemic, the nonprofit has provided more than 107,000 mental health and social service interactions to improve the well-being of children, adults and families.  

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