New York: Help us before it’s too late

Two years ago, when I was 15, four of my friends attempted suicide. They were of various socioeconomic statuses, of different genders and sexualities, from different schools and family structures, and yet they all felt their only option was to take their own lives. That was the year I lost the luxury of feeling that my friends were safe, but it also made me aware of something: They were all lucky. All four of them survived because they had access to mental health professionals when they needed them most.

Students across New York state are in trouble. Existential threats from rampant gun violence, environmental destruction and a global pandemic have left emotional scars on Generation Z. Teens are in crisis across the country. According to a 2022 report from the CDC, 42% of high school students experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and 22% have seriously considered suicide at some point. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that suicide recently overtook cancer as the third leading cause of death among young adults. A study in June 2023 from the NCHS showed that youth suicide rates have increased by 62% in the last 16 years. Young people today are crying out for help, but no one seems to be listening.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli studied how public schools throughout New York support their students by employing school counselors who focus on helping students navigate school-related challenges and social workers who focus on assisting students with socio-emotional challenges. The report found that 64% of schools do not meet the recommended ratio of one school counselor per 250 students, and a staggering 80% of schools fall short of this ratio for school social workers. There simply are not enough professionals in the schools to help students in crisis or to help prevent them from getting to that point.

As the State Comptroller’s report shows, not every student in New York state has access to a mental health professional in their school. Even fewer students in New York can afford a private mental health professional. A lack of cultural or family acceptance, a lack of geographic availability, and mental health stigmas all serve as barriers to access for students across the state.

The New York public school system must ensure that every student has the support they need when they need it. My friends impress me every day with their resilience and ability to heal and grow from their mental health challenges. They can only do this because of the strong support they receive. All students deserve the chance to overcome their challenges.

Luckily, there is a potential solution to this crisis. If the root of the problem is a lack of access to mental health professionals, increasing the accessibility of these professionals to students would provide a safety net for every student who is at risk or needs help. NYS bills S7558 and A7743 in the Senate and Assembly would require the New York Department of Education to recognize the recommended student-to-mental health professional ratios and subsequently require public schools to hire mental health professionals per these ratios. As seen in the New York FY 2025 Executive Budget, Gov. Kathy Hochul has already begun prioritizing mental health by allotting $4.8 billion to mental health care. A small portion of that budget could be used to support public schools in meeting these new ratios, helping to ease this significant transition.

While the most important benefit is the human lives saved, the potential long-term savings of investing in the public school system are also worth noting. New York is already spending a significant amount of money dealing with adult mental health challenges. This is primarily through expensive residential treatment facilities, yet it ignores the root issues that cause New York’s mental health challenges. The state would save both lives and money by addressing students’ mental health challenges during adolescence — when half of all mental health disorders begin. A peer-reviewed study published by BMJ Global Health found that “for every $1 invested in the full set of interventions, we expect $24 in health and economic benefits to be returned to the economy over 80 years.” Not only would these bills help students today, they would save the state money in the future.

These bills would radically change how the New York public school system supports its students. Currently, public schools are massively understaffed regarding mental health professionals and are only able to focus on students who are actively experiencing crises, which do not occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of months of struggle, warning signs and cries for help. Having an adequate number of mental health professionals allows schools to proactively look for warning signs and practice preventative care, reducing mental health crises in the first place. Oftentimes, schools without sufficient mental health professionals are unable to support students even when they ask for or show they need it, instead requiring them to wait weeks or even months, when it may be too late. That is unacceptable. These are extremely time-sensitive situations. If a student is reaching out for help, it’s because they need it, and they must receive that help in time.

It is easy to get caught up in the statistics, theories and reports and to lose sight of the real people behind this discussion. I can’t do this. Every headline, infographic, or post I read about the “youth mental health crisis” reminds me of how close I was to losing my friends to it. The common thread between them was their access to professional help and support. Without it, I’m not sure they would still be here today. Passing bills S7558 and A7743 would give every student in New York the support they need. My peers and I are calling out for help. I hope someone hears us before it is too late.

Charlie Getman is a high school student at Trevor Day School in New York City. He lives in Manhattan. A list of sources accompanies this guest commentary online.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. n.d. “Facts About Suicide | Suicide Prevention | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 13, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/index.html.

Curtin, Sally C., Matthew F. Garnett, and Jeffery Hughes. 2023. “Suicide and Homicide Death Rates Among Youth and Young Adults Aged 10-24: United States, 2001-2021.” CDC stacks. https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/128423.

DiNapoli, Thomas P. 2022. “Mental Health Education, Supports, and Services in Schools.” NYS Comptroller. https://www.osc.ny.gov/state-agencies/audits/2022/08/18/mental-health-education-supports-and-services-schools.

“FastStats – Adolescent Health.” n.d. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 3, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/adolescent-health.htm.

“FY 2025 Executive Budget Highlights.” 2024. Governor Kathy Hochul. https://www.governor.ny.gov/fy-2025-executive-budget/fy-2025-executive-budget-highlights#mental_health_care.

Schlack, Robert, and Robert Koch. 2021. “The effects of mental health problems in childhood and adolescence in young adults: Results of the KiGGS cohort.” NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8734087/.

Shrikant, Aditi. 2023. “Youth suicide rates rose 62% from 2007 to 2021: ‘People feel hopeless,’ one recent grad says.” CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/12/05/youth-suicide-rates-rose-62percent-from-2007-to-2021.html.


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