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Bilingual crisis counseling looks to help Long Island youth with mental health challenges

kids mental health.png
AP Newswire

A survey of young people on Long Island found many lack ways to address mental health challenges, according to Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, known as OLA. So, the group used the “first-of-its-kind survey” to launch a bilingual crisis prevention program.

The survey was taken in 2020 by over 270 residents, of whom nearly 70% were high school students on eastern Long Island.

Nearly 75% of respondents said they experience significant anxiety and depression. This was primarily due to social interactions and the demand of school work, according to the survey.

“What was momentous about this was that we were taking the voices of youth directly and asking them some of the hardest questions and then actually listening to what they had to say,” said Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA, which provides bilingual health services for children and adults, especially those who have few health services available to them.

The survey found that many students lacked appropriate services to address these issues. 32% of respondents said that they wished they could have spoken to a private therapist during the pandemic but didn’t have access to one. More than 27% of respondents also avoided school support systems, indicating that they found it hard to trust confidentiality in schools. Some students reported using self harm to cope with mental health challenges.

OLA took the results and feedback from the survey to launch this week Youth Connect, a bilingual crisis prevention program for middle and high school students.

With Youth Connect, students could anonymously text or call a trained crisis counselor — in English and Spanish — to help support them through mental health issues. The goal is for students to learn to manage their stress and better communicate their needs. In turn, they might be able to better support their peers through stressful times — like during the pandemic.

Youth Connect also aims to support local institutions, such as schools, places of worship, therapists and parents to better understand youth mental health challenges.

Perez said this service has already found success in other parts of Long Island. “This is an approach that can work and so we would like to see this as a model that other communities, other school districts, or other regions on Long Island, New York or beyond are able to look at and take on and not assume that a crisis hotline is enough,” she added.

To start a similar program, more information is available online, Perez said. Her organization commissioned Stony Brook University’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development to compile the survey.

Eric Warner is a news fellow at WSHU.