[Arlene Borenstein] Teen mental health is in crisis.
The latest status shows an unprecedented rise in suicidal behaviors and depression among adolescent girls and LGBTQ+ teens in the U.S. We look at what's driving this alarming trend and the latest programs aimed at addressing the critical need for school based mental health professionals.
That and more, stay with us as we dive into Your South Florida.
Hello and welcome to Your South Florida.
I'm Arlene Borenstein, filling in for Pam Giganti.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and while all people, no matter their age, race or background can struggle with their mental wellbeing, the latest data from the CDC shows U.S. teens are in the mist of a nationwide mental health crisis.
And the issue is significantly worse for girls and LGBTQ+ teens.
In 2021, almost 60% of female high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year.
And 30% of teen girls seriously contemplated suicide.
The numbers are even more stark for LGBTQ+ teens, nearly 70% experienced feelings of sadness or hopelessness and 45% seriously considered suicide in the past year.
So what are the factors behind these alarming trends?
Joining me now to discuss this and much more is Katherine Murphy, CEO of the Palm Beach County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI.
You also have someone else virtually, Amanda Kopacz who you work with, peer specialist for NAMI of Palm Beach County.
Amanda is also a trauma informed yoga and mindfulness teacher and social work intern with Broward County Public Schools.
Thanks for joining us both here today.
Katherine, NAMI PBC has noticed these trends, people reaching out for help teens especially.
Can you tell us more about that and what you've been noticing?
So prior to the pandemic, a lot of the calls that we received were from caregivers or family members who are worried about somebody else.
Since the pandemic, we've had a huge increase in calls of people who are calling for themselves, who were feeling lonely, isolated, feeling anxious, depressed for the first time and so we definitely saw a huge rise in that.
It is alarming and Amanda, through your roles with NAMI, you've also seen the same, correct?
Yeah, absolutely, with NAMI and with the Broward School District, being within the environment is a little different.
And you communicate with the community on a daily basis.
What are some of the big stressors going on affecting teen mental health that you see each day?
I would say they're overall just, they're very dysregulated.
So everything that we sort of knew as normal got flipped upside down and I don't think there's really been an opportunity to get back to any sense of real normal.
So that's a lot of it.
I would say that they're struggling with things that we've all heard about, things like social media, a lack of sleep, and part of that does have to do with social media and having to get up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to catch the bus to school.
I think that's a big factor.
There's a lot of instability in the school system.
We have a lot of teachers that have left the profession so a lot of the students have sort of permanent substitutes and kind of don't know who they're gonna have from one day to the next.
So there's just so many challenges.
I think the kids are res responding very naturally to very unnatural circumstances.
To your point, there is a critical shortage of mental health professionals and social workers in public schools, which is only making things worse throughout this mental health crisis.
Tell us, Amanda, more about the work you do specifically for Broward students and the need for mental health professionals and social workers throughout the district.
So the work I do it varies from one day to the next.
Overall I offer support and that support can be emotional support in developing coping skills, it can be supporting the HEART program which is our students that are either homeless or in some sort of housing transition or instability.
Making sure that they're able to physically get to school, that they have school supplies, they have shoes, and other essentials.
I support kids basically, I tell them in any aspect of their life that's not academic but is all affecting their academics and affecting their success.
Another thing I do is trauma informed yoga and mindfulness classes during their lunchtime.
They can come voluntarily.
I always have a big group of students even though they self-select to be there and they find it really helpful just to have an opportunity to feel safe, to feel calm, to learn how to regulate their nervous systems.
So that's been something that's really helpful as well.
And you know, Katherine, as you're hearing Amanda talk about these issues and the shortages, how do you fill the gap at NAMI?
Maybe not you specifically, but your team of people there.
How do you address these issues for our community?
So we support students in two ways.
One is we have a presentation called NAMI ending the Silence and we go into middle schools and high schools and talk to students about early warning signs and mental health conditions, what to look out for, how to start conversations with their friends, with their school staff, with their families.
And we also introduce them to the mental health professionals at the school.
In addition, we work with their families.
We have support groups, classes, we can answer the phone and talk to family members and help them to navigate the mental health system.
We have a crisis guide, which can help the parents to understand what to do in case of a crisis and we have just a ton of resources to help to educate them so that they can best support their child.
Yes, that sounds wonderful and something that these children really need at this very difficult time.
You know, you think you're out of covid and that isolation but the lingering effects of that is really what seems like we're talking about here among so many other things that affect mental health.
Amanda, you've long been an advocate for mental health.
You just received your master's in social work.
Congratulations to you, such great work.
What was the turning point that led you to go kind of all in to help the community?
I would say that there are layers to my journey.
You know, I came into mental health as an advocate based on lived experience.
I come from two things.
I come from a long line of helping professionals, a lot of nurses and teachers.
I am not the first social worker in my family and also a long line of mental health challenges and conditions.
So a lot of major depression and bipolar in my family and including a child.
So I've survived multiple suicide losses amongst my loved ones and I have a daughter that survived a major suicide attempt about seven years ago and that's what kind of lit a fire for me to be more vocal.
I was kind of a quiet advocate and became a very loud advocate.
So that led me to my volunteer work with NAMI and then eventually working with NAMI and doing a lot of education and outreach and support.
And I found when I was trying to refer individuals and families for specifically things like trauma therapy or therapy for individuals with persistent mental illness, that we just didn't have enough local providers.
So I decided eventually I could be one.
And I went back to school.
I went back for graduate work for my master's in social work and that's my long-term goal is to be a trauma therapist, especially.
What's, yeah, what work could be a bigger inspiration than you know, our children and people who are so close to us, our loved ones.
So thank you for your bravery and seeing what's going on with your own loved ones and moving that forward.
I think a lot of families watching right now can connect with that and you know, Katherine that type of support that families need, for example, I may come in and ask you about a personal situation that we're going through.
What should families expect when they walk in?
What type of programs or initiatives may they be met with like right off the bat?
So they can start with a phone call to our office and find out what it is that we offer and maybe we offer them the resource that they need and if not, we can also help them to navigate the mental health system within the county.
And if we don't offer something in Palm Beach County or if they need help outside, there are 24 NAMI's in Florida over 600 throughout the country, we might be able to help connect them to a resource where they do live.
Specifically for parents, a teen daughter having trouble, what may they be able to do?
So we have a support group.
It's on Zoom every Wednesday night and all of our groups are led by and for people with that particular type of lived experience.
So we have family groups which are led by family caregivers for other family caregivers or we have support groups by and for people who are living with or experiencing mental health conditions.
And so a family who came to us, they might start with our family support group and they, like I said they can attend on Zoom from wherever they are, the comfort of their own home.
We also have classes that help to train them educate them on the ins and outs of this journey of supporting somebody with a condition.
What's the community telling you?
What's been the feedback as of late?
You hear these startling numbers.
What's been your experience with NAMI PBC in our own community?
So what I hear, we just did a big survey on our support groups and the biggest comment was that we helped to give people hope and that we helped them to feel less alone.
And that there are other people who understand what they're going through.
A lot of times mental health conditions are very private conditions people go through.
We say that they're not a casserole illness.
People don't bring you a casserole if your child is in the mental health hospital or if you go through a crisis or have a relapse.
And so at NAMI we understand what that is like to go through these tough situations and to try to reduce the stigma and help people feel like they have a place to go, to a place where they can talk about these things.
So Amanda, you're the boots on the ground, you help people different levels within the Broward County public school system, also through NAMI.
You've been dealing with this with your own family.
So what advice, valuable advice, would you give to parents and caregivers for children who are going through these mental health struggles?
For one thing, if I reflect on what advice I needed as a parent, it was to really pay attention.
I think for a little while I maybe overlooked what were symptoms and kind of delayed getting help because I just thought it was normal teenage stuff.
So I think that's one of the amazing things NAMI does is the education around what is a mental health symptom and what is kind of typical adolescent behavior.
So I think that that is part of it, having the conversation having very open conversations and I know sometimes that is tricky when we're talking about teens, but really leaning into affirming their experience, what they've been through over the last few years none of us experienced in our youth.
So I think it goes a long way to to validate that they're struggling.
So I think that that opens up conversations.
I would say don't be afraid to have the hard conversations.
If a teen is asking for help and support, I wouldn't delay.
I would start looking for that support.
A very common experience I have with the students is they have families that don't want therapy that don't believe necessarily in mental health conditions and that makes it really challenging for the kids that do want support.
So, you know, just being openminded.
It's like any other health condition.
We have a lot of components to our wellness and just like we wouldn't delay if we had a cavity growing, we would go see a dentist, same thing.
If there's something developing in the realm of mental health there's no shame.
There shouldn't be any stigma in seeking support for that.
And Katherine how can the community support NAMI's mission and all the wonderful things you do?
To build off of what Amanda just said to start by being stigma free.
So to recognize at home, in the workplace, at the office that people experience mental health and behavioral health challenges and to be there and be supportive of them.
One way that we're doing that is in May we have the Get your Green on campaign.
We encourage everyone to wear green, which is the color for mental health awareness.
[Arlene] You're wearing it today.
[Amanda] May 18th to show their support.
[Amanda] And to just start those conversations and people can always reach out to us if they need support.
And we're gonna have a huge community event on November 4th at John Prince Park in Lake Worth, NAMI Walks, it's a great opportunity for people to come out and meet us, talk to other people who are involved in this movement and to find out where to get resources and help.
I've heard of NAMI Walks, excellent event, raises good money for a great cause.
And I just wanna say thank you to both of you for shining your bright light for so many people who may not have it right now.
So again, thank you for joining us today.
Well according to the World Health Organization, half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by age 14 but most cases are undetected and untreated.
Fortunately for Palm Beach County resident, Maddy Tasini, her parents took her to a therapist after first having suicidal thoughts in middle school.
But an unexpected mental health crisis more than a decade later left Maddy and her parents distraught and searching for answers.
Now Maddy is on a mission to help others navigate their own mental health journeys.
Take a look.
Is that everybody?
Yeah, I think so.
I don't see Steve.
Look at how tiny I was.
Well you were tiny.
I would say I was always a little quiet, but very curious about life, just trying to figure things out as a kid.
I had very few friends, which was really hard.
It took us a while to get it out of her.
She really like didn't wanna talk about it and we knew something was wrong.
I told my parents one night that I wanted to die.
Well I guess we tried to remain sort of calm so we wouldn't frighten her and talked to her about it and why she felt that way and what was going on.
I was very scared.
I didn't have a plan or anything it was just like a thought and so I knew I had to tell my parents so they decided to take me to a therapist.
I think it helped her quite a bit.
She did not express any real ideation of suicide or really talked about it too much and that issue went away.
I love this picture.
I do too.
My psychosis started when I was 26, 27.
Being home, living here for like two years with her parents during Covid, she was really not very happy.
Nothing, no indication of any kind of psychosis that I noticed at all.
Leading up to psychosis I would isolated my room a lot, just reading books all day long.
I was very unhappy.
I was getting migraines a lot.
One night around 5:30 in the morning, she came into our room, my wife and I were sleeping and she said you need to stop talking about me.
And we're like, Maddy, we're not talking about it, we're sound asleep.
Go back to bed.
And then she said that she had heard, we were talking to her sister who lives in Colorado and so then I knew something was wrong.
And I was very unaware of it.
Like I didn't know what was going on.
Shock, surprise, fear, uncertainty, not really knowing what's going on.
So yeah, it was difficult.
Three days later I decided to go to the ER.
It was one of the most horrible experiences I ever had.
They didn't treat me for 24 hours with a psychiatrist.
So I was just sitting in bed hearing voices all day long.
And so then my parents just took me out and I went to an inpatient facility for three days.
I don't recall how I found NAMI.
One thing that was really helpful, they had a training education program for like six, eight weeks where every week you would meet with a facilitator and a group of parents.
The stigma that's attached to mental health is is still very prevalent and so that's very isolating.
That really opened our eyes about it and that other people were very willing to share.
So you know, that was very, very helpful.
Once I got off the medications and once I started like functioning back to my normal self, I don't hear voices anymore.
Mostly I just hear thoughts that sound like voices.
But I can tell a difference now.
Nowadays I'm in therapy and I go to family therapy with my family, it's really helped me a lot.
Just learn how to cope with going through psychosis and just, I'm still recovering from it, but it was really one of the hardest experience I ever gone through.
But it made me really strong.
And she's fantastic.
She's seems much happier.
She's now pursuing her master's to become a licensed mental health counselor.
So she's doing great.
I think NAMI actually really helped me decide to go back to school because when I first got outta my mental health struggle with my psychosis, I took a peer to peer course which helped me like learn about medications and how to cope with my anxiety and my psychosis.
Nowadays for NAMI, I facilitate groups as a peer group facilitator and I really enjoy doing that because it gives me a chance to like help other people in my own shoes.
I also started joining a running group, which I really liked.
I'm actually a certified yin yoga teacher, which really helps just like calm and relax my mind.
I also run my own business called Mental Health Wizard, where I'm a mental health coach to help people in recovery.
I would tell parents to find as many resources as they can and to find as many doctors as they can because the health system here for mental health is really not that great.
And I have experienced that firsthand.
I have a really good psychiatrist now who's excellent and without any of that help I wouldn't be the person I am today.
In response to the critical shortage of mental health professionals in public schools across the country, earlier this year the U.S. Department of Education announced they were awarding more than $188,000,000 to 170 grantees in more than 30 states.
Among the recipients, Florida International University received a $6,000,000 grant to help improve access to mental health services for students throughout Miami-Dade County public schools.
With these federal Dollars, FIU's Project Dig will help recruit and train graduate students to work as school psychologists and social workers.
Joining me now to share about this new initiative is Dr. Andy Pham, director and associate Professor of FIU School Psychology Program and principal investigator of the grant.
Dr. Pham, thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
As we spoke about earlier in the program there is a critical need for mental health professionals and social workers in the school system.
In this case Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Let's talk about the job of social workers in a school setting and why they're just so important.
So social workers are usually uniquely trained to provide services to support social and psychological needs of students.
That's really the primary goal for all school-based mental health professionals.
So school social workers, they collect information from families about students social and developmental history.
They work with students individually or in groups and they also help manage any crises that might occur in the school.
They handle issues related to trauma, parental divorce, substance misuse, bullying.
So school social workers work alongside professionals, teachers, administrators in a team and they advocate for students' wellbeing.
So they essentially provide the link between home and school community.
So they're necessary in a school setting as they are trained mental health professionals and they can identify concerns earlier on and to provide mental health supports sooner than later.
With so many of the issues you just mentioned, sad to say there is a shortage of these professionals.
How is it impacting students?
Right, so similar to teacher shortages, this puts a strain in the school system in trying to meet children's mental health needs.
Studies have shown that one in five school-aged children may have a diagnosable mental health disorder and the CDC released data from a national survey indicating that one for high school girls reported seriously considering suicide and almost half of LGBTQ students surveyed considering attempting suicide.
And there also have been increases in bullying, students feeling anxious and depressed during and after the pandemic.
So a lot of current mental health professionals are feeling the strain because unfortunately, we are not able to meet the needs of every student if we don't have enough of school social workers and school psychologists in the schools.
Well talk to us about the federal funding received and Project Dig.
What's the goal?
How will it help MDCPS students and FIU grad students and how long will that grant last?
Yeah, so Project Dig, it stands for a Demonstration Innovation Grant.
So it is a five year grant provided by the U.S. Department of Education and it's also part of the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration grant, which is made possible by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
So this is in collaboration with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, our school psychology program and the school of social work here at FIU.
And the main goal is to recruit and financially support graduate students who are really committed and really excited about coming to FIU to learn the skills to become a mental health service professional, either some school psychologist or school social worker with eventual goal or path to employment with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
So it's a, a great collaboration between our respective graduate programs and the school district.
That's so nice to hear that they are so excited about it and to go out there and help people who need it, especially children.
What makes this program unique?
Yeah, so in addition to being a a collaborative project with our programs we are able to provide financial supports to graduate students, including tuition waivers.
We're able to provide payment for field experiences, including internships for students in the social work program or within school psychology.
And one of our missions is to ensure that students that we work with are successful.
So particularly those in marginalized communities, those in poverty.
As we know Miami-Dade County Public Schools is a rather diverse community of students and sometimes mental health can be a stigma for many families and so sometimes we have to train our students to know how to navigate some of these barriers to ensure that our graduate students are sensitive to these issues.
And also to identify existing strengths of children that we work with in schools, particularly whose cultural background might be different from our own.
How can grad students apply to be a part of the program?
Yeah, so we do accept applications each year.
If interested search Project DIG FIU, we do have a website with more information about the application process.
If interested people are wanting to apply to a particular graduate program, whether school psychology or school social work, it does provide links to our respective graduate programs.
My contact information's also on the webpage, so a lot of the information can be found on that website.
What would you tell people who may be interested in pursuing a career similar to this in mental health or social work to pursue that career?
What would be your message?
So our message would be if you're interested working with children, with families and in order to ensure that students are successful, I think this program would be for you.
We're able to provide as much support as we can.
As we know, graduate school can be quite expensive and so we're doing our best to alleviate some of those costs so that a lot of our children and youth are successful in schools.
Thank you so much for joining us today Dr. Pham, and all that you do.
Thank you for having me again.
And for more on FIU's Project Dig in the mental health resources discussed on today's program, find us on social media at YourSouthFL.
I'm Arlene Borenstein.
Thanks for watching.