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Gov. Hochul’s upcoming state budget addresses student mental health matters. Local leaders respond

Rochester City School District students arrive at Montessori Academy School No. 53 for the first day of classes. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Rochester City School District students arrive at Montessori Academy School No. 53 for the first day of classes. (photo by Max Schulte)

Gov. Kathy Hochul says efforts to improve youth mental health will be a priority in her upcoming New York state budget proposal.

In her State of the State address on Tuesday, Hochul announced measures to improve access to mental health care at schools and reshape the legal landscape around social media companies’ engagement with minors.

“I am encouraged by the Governor’s inclusion of a youth mental health agenda in her address,” said state Sen. Samra Brouk, a Democrat who chairs the state Senate’s Committee on Mental Health. “Our young people are still struggling to receive the care they deserve, and we have an obligation as leaders to take meaningful actions like the governor’s proposals to expand school-based mental health clinics, peer-to-peer support programs, and youth mental health first aid.”

Hochul called for more social media guardrails for minors as she proposed a bill called Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act.

If passed, anyone under 18 would by default have a chronological feed of users they follow on their social media accounts. That’s instead of current features that use algorithms to curate content into what is sometimes called “addictive” feeds.

“The overuse of social media, which leads to addiction to social media is a huge worldwide challenge,” said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, which is part of the statewide union, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).

“If children are not knowledgeable about appropriate use of social media, then they can either engage in or become victims of cyberbullying, which is now a growing contributor to children's suicide, to children's depression, to children's discomfort with their peers and with schools, generally speaking,” he added. “And you can only imagine how much more serious of a problem this will become as artificial intelligence becomes more widespread.”

NYSUT has advocated for social media protections for minors.

“The governor’s State of the State message is a welcome affirmation of her commitment to invest in our public schools, students and educators,” NYSUT president Melinda Person said in a statement. “NYSUT shares her powerful goals of addressing barriers to authentic learning, including increasing access to vital student mental health support, protecting kids from harmful impacts of social media and fighting to end childhood poverty.

Hochul also announced a plan to add mental health clinics to schools that request them.

Urbanski said more mental health resources in schools would help address underlying causes of low achievement outcomes.

“It's not a costly proposition because those services already exist,” he said. “But they might as well not exist if the child and the family of the child doesn't know how to even access them.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.