ARMONK, N.Y. – More than 400 parents and Byram Hills Central School District members attended the unveiling of an innovative mental health program this week. The program will strive to address adolescent stress and issues related to mental health within the district.
Featuring staff from the University of Michigan Depression Center, which is collaborating on the “EVEN” program—a multi-layered program which will provide education, counseling and mental health resources to students and teachers.
“The kids have real issues and we as parents have to help them,” said Armonk resident Harris Schwartzberg, whose family foundation helped kick start the program, which is expected to become a national model.
Mental health experts told parents that varying levels of stress, anxiety and depression were common among teenagers. Experts noted, that especially in high-performing districts like Byram Hills, students feel tremendous pressure to succeed in school and sports, and to get into top-tier colleges.
Recognizing the difference between normal teenage angst and more serious problems is the first step, said Dr. Elizabeth Koschmann of the UM Depression Center. When teens start avoiding going to school, seeing friends or participating in activities they once enjoyed, parents need to seek help.
Dr. Koschmann said that anxiety and depression could often be successfully treated, and urged parents to try to stay connected even when their teenagers don’t want to talk.
“Your role as a parent is to keep asking,” she said.
The panel discussion was moderated by CBS News anchor Maurice Dubois and drew expertise from Dr. Kate Fitzgerald of the Depression Center, Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of The Jed Foundation, BHHS Counselor Gary McCarthy, Dwight Hollier, director of Transitions and Clinical Services for the NFL, and mental health advocate Randi Silverman.
Through the new program, the UM Depression Center has already provided workshops for high school staff in recognizing mental health issues and preventing suicide.
Peer leaders have been given training in recognizing signs of anxiety and have been taught strategies for encouraging students to seek help. EVEN builds on resources already in place in Byram Hills, including counseling, student mentoring and a special transition program for freshmen.
Byram Hills High School Principal Chris Borsari, who said the program has been in the works for more than year, said he hoped it would reduce stigmas associated with mental illness and make it easier for students and families to seek help.
Panel members advised families to accept their kids for who they are – and not demand perfection. They also urged parents to be honest with the school when mental health problems arise.
“Real strength is accepting help and getting better,” said the NFL’s Dwight Hollier.