The mental health services available to our young people are dependent on their school district. In Washington, suicide is the leading cause of death for teens 15 – 19. In the 2016 Youth Survey, 21% of students had considered suicide in the preceding 12 months, and 28% of students said they felt “sad” or “hopeless” almost every day for two weeks or more in a row, to the point they stopped normal activities.
For those in 12th grade, 22% said they used marijuana, 23% said they vape, and 36% drank alcohol in the preceding 30 days. Substance use mixed with mental health challenges can result in a downward spiral that most adults are unequipped to handle, much less young people.
The City must take proactive measures to address the mental health crisis impacting our youth. The Needs Assessment identified areas of action the city can take to address youth mental health. One immediate action identified is to provide funding for an awareness campaign to help remove the stigma associated with receiving mental health services and promote available resources. Social media advertising is inexpensive, and we can leverage our youth’s creativity to help come up with ideas for social media campaigns. This might be a perfect project for the Youth Board.
The following actions require more time and funding to execute but are critical. I have identified a potential revenue source to fund these important initiatives.
Create a community effort to curb alcohol and substance abuse.
The Needs Assessment showed that efforts to do this within the school districts stalled. The City should take the lead in this area by providing support and coordination to ensure our Sammamish Youth receive equal support, no matter their school district.
Expand Mental Health First Aid to a community-wide program.
The Mental Health First Aid is a program that the Lake Washington School District participates in, with classes sponsored by Evergreen Health. Creating a partnership with LWSD, ISD, Eastside Catholic, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, NAMI, and others can help increase understanding and provide us with the tools we need to ensure our youth in crisis receive the support they need. Mental Health First Aid is only the first step. The 2016 Youth Survey showed we need to provide continued support, which is why the next action item is critical.
Fund mental health counselors in schools
Funding mental health counselors is necessary to ensure our students receive the ongoing mental health support they need. The access and type of service available to students depends on which school district they attend and their grade level. In the Lake Washington School District, students are provided the opportunity to take a self-assessment. If requested or needed, the district then works with their service partners to provide referrals for support. Issaquah School District provides direct support with school-based mental health professionals funded by a levy approved by voters. We must increase our level of service to ensure that Sammamish youth in all schools have the same access to mental health services. We must meet our youth where they are.
Mental health professionals within our schools are not limited to just one-on-one counseling sessions for students. They could provide mediation between students and teachers/staff, students and parents, process groups for students with shared struggles, and process groups for teachers.
Create Additional Recreation Opportunities
The services provided by the Boys & Girls Club in Sammamish are limited to daycare-style services for younger kids. We must give our Parks & Recreation Department within the City funding to develop robust recreation activities for our Youth, especially after school. We need to ensure our youth have healthy activities to take part in during off-hours, providing them a much-needed escape from the job-like grind many of them are under as they prepare for college.