RYC Social Work Supervisor Linda Tillmon, LCSW, RYC Executive Director Lisa Dominici, Social Work Intern Jessica Torres, and RYC Youth Education and Mental Health Counseling Intern Jessica Lodato.
In response to the increasing need for youth mental health support and services, the Rye Youth Council has created a three-part course of action offering direct clinical counseling and support; an evidence-based student-led Depression Awareness Campaign; and training for local adults in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
While many people have struggled with mental health throughout the pandemic, data show that young people have struggled the most. According to a 2020 Mental Health America report, ages 11-17 were more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. Compared to 2019, mental health related visits to hospital emergency departments increased 31 percent for ages 12-17 in 2020.
Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and one in five teens between ages 12 and 18 suffer from at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth; suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24. These are the most serious problems the Rye Youth Council seeks to address.
The new RYC Mental Health Initiative is made possible with support from The Maddie Fund, a charitable fund created in memory of Madeline Hart Pollard, who passed away in 2019 after a heartbreaking battle with bipolar depression. “Our family created The Maddie Fund as a means of continuing to do the work that Maddie herself had begun to do and was studying to do — helping others who are suffering from mental illness. While The Maddie Fund supports several regional and national organizations promoting mental health and wellness, it was important to us to find a way to make a difference in our community where Maddie grew up,” said Anne Pollard.
With support from The Maddie Fund, the Youth Council hired a part-time licensed clinical social worker to create a social work/mental health counseling internship program and provide critical mental health services, support, and resources for youth and families in the community. Led by RYC Social Work Supervisor Linda Tillmon, LCSW, the new RYC Restore Counseling Service offers three to six months of counseling for youth ages 10-22, at little to no cost. Parents can also seek counseling, information, and referrals to other local mental health resources by calling the RYC Restore phone line at 914-222-0988 or sending a confidential email (email@example.com). In addition, Tillmon serves on the Westchester County Suicide Prevention Task Force and is a certified instructor in the evidence-based Suicide Safety for Teachers training.
This month, in partnership with the Rye City School District and RyeACT, the Youth Council brings a new, evidence-based Peer to Peer (P2P) Depression Awareness program to Rye High School. Developed by the University of Michigan’s Eisenberg Family Depression Center, P2P is the recipient of the 2019 American Psychiatric Association’s Gold Award and is built on the premise that many mental health disorders first present themselves during adolescence, and teens are more likely to listen to other teens than well-meaning adults. P2P was introduced to Rye Youth Council Executive Director Lisa Dominici through Anne and Don Pollard, founders of The Maddie Fund. Additional support for the P2P program at Rye High School is provided by the Rye High School Class of ’75 Fund.
The new P2P program at Rye High supports students in finding creative ways to convey knowledge about depression and depressive illnesses to their peers to reduce stigma, raise awareness, and encourage help-seeking when needed. “As a result of the program, we anticipate RHS students will be more confident in their ability to identify someone who is showing common signs of depression and to help them access appropriate in-school mental health support services,” offered Dominici.
“Supporting the mental health and wellness of our young people in Rye is critically important. Through our partnership with the Rye Youth Council, we continue to make huge strides in building the foundation for strong mental health support structures in the school. The Rye Youth Council has delivered expert training, curricular support and leadership as new programs such as P2P and Mental Health First Aid equip our faculty, staff, and students in providing support to the community,” says Dr. Eric Byrne, Superintendent, Rye City School District.
The Rye HS P2P group includes 16 students, representing a variety of student clubs and groups, under the guidance of Faculty Mentors Robyn Kaminer (RHS Health Education Teacher), Dr. Marisa Cuomo (RHS School Psychologist), and Jessica Torres (RYC Social Work Intern). Training and ongoing support for P2P are provided by the University of Michigan Eisenberg Center staff, in collaboration with Rye Youth Council and RyeACT.
To further expand support of youth mental health, Ms. Dominici and RyeACT Coalition Coordinator Nancy Pasquale became certified instructors in the evidence-based Youth Mental Health First Aid course, which is designed to teach parents, family members, and other adults how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Together, Ms. Dominici and Ms. Pasquale have trained more than 90 adults to identify typical adolescent development and learn about common mental and behavioral health challenges for youth including anxiety, depression, substance use, ADHD, psychosis, and eating disorders. “Our goal is to train a critical mass of adults in the community who are equipped to help young people get the support and care they need,” added Dominici.
Rye Youth Council’s new Mental Health initiative is in its early stages of growth, yet already provides a foundation for young people in Rye that is based on well-documented protective factors. For information, visit ryeyouthcouncil.org.