June 15, 2023
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Convenes Summit on Youth Mental Health and Delivers Opening Remarks

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Convenes Summit on Youth Mental Health and Delivers Opening Remarks

Governor Hochul: "[Y]our presence here today gives me hope that we're a caring State. It's also a statement that collectively we understand the magnitude of this crisis, the pain that it's causing, and the kids who just need our help. It's an acknowledgement that we don't have all the answers, and what we've been doing is simply not good enough. It's also a vow to take the hard questions, give unconventional answers, and challenge the status quo. It is simply a vow to do better. I believe we can accomplish that starting right here today."

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul convened a summit on youth mental health and delivered opening remarks.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

Hello everyone. Good morning. Good morning to all of you. Thank you. Thank you very much for the warm welcome. Thank you. I first all want to acknowledge the Javits Center for Hosting us, Alan Steel, who has been through a lot during the pandemic, but he has always been there for us. This is an incredible iconic venue. It reminds us of the preeminence of New York City and New York State and the world, and which is why we are gathering right here at this moment in time.

I know we have a couple of elected officials, leaders, elected leaders who have joined us. Alex Bores has joined us. Our Assemblymember is in the house. Let's give a round of applause to our Assemblymember. I also am fortunate to have an extraordinary team of professionals who support me and our policies every single day.

Ann Sullivan, our Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health. Let's give her a big round of applause, Dr. Sullivan. Suzanne Miles-Gustave, our acting Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services. Suzanne, thank you. Elizabeth Cronin, the Office of Victim Services has joined us and also Jihoon Kim, our Deputy Secretary for Human Services and Mental Health, Jihoon. I thank the team led by Erin White and others who worked so hard to make this day become a reality because this is New York's first ever youth mental health summit happening right before our very eyes.

I'm so proud to be gathering over 1,000 people - people who deeply care about the plight of our young people. Bringing together the brightest minds in the world, mental health experts, educators, parents, policy makers, members from law enforcement, authors and advocates, and of course our young people who remind us, we were once young, a long time ago, perhaps for some of us, but what has changed so dramatically from our youth, no matter what your age is, it is incomparable to what our youth of today are going through.

So, your presence here today gives me hope that we're a caring State. It's also a statement that collectively we understand the magnitude of this crisis, the pain that it's causing, and the kids who just need our help. It's an acknowledgement that we don't have all the answers, and what we've been doing is simply not good enough. It's also a vow to take the hard questions, give unconventional answers, and challenge the status quo. It is simply a vow to do better. I believe we can accomplish that starting right here today.

On March 16th at the New York Psychiatric Institute in Washington Heights, I launched our first ever Statewide mental health youth listening tour. I sent our teams all across the State and I want to thank one of our leaders of that effort, Tiara Springer-Love, great name Tiara, for what she did in moderating the conversation that I had with some young people, and it still touches my heart to this day.

I wanted to know more about the experiences of our young people directly, understand their concerns. Take a little walk in their shoes or their sneakers, or their chucks or whatever they want to call them. We held seven sessions. Listened to over 200 young people across our State. To all the young people who came here today sharing your life's experiences and sometimes they were just so heart-wrenching to hear, but your leadership in sharing your story will be one of the reasons perhaps your younger siblings and cousins and neighbors and even the next generation will not have to endure often the unspeakable that you've had to be exposed to. So, thank you. Let's give a round of applause to all of our young people who are gathering here today.

Teenagers are facing a crisis like never seen before in the history of this country. There's a time when it was always binge drinking, drunk driving, smoking were the greatest evils. Today it's so much deeper. It's anxiety, it's depression, and it's suicide. If you look at the statistics, they're absolutely staggering, and it's just a reminder that we're failing our children.

According to the CDC, 42 percent - almost half of all high school students feel persistently sad or hopeless during what could be one of the most spectacular times of their lives, and 22 percent have actually considered that the alternative to life was better, that they'd rather end their life, especially for high school girls. My God, the pressure on them. Three in five high school girls report being persistently sad or hopeless. It's even hard to say that.

Think about when you look at a classroom, you look at your own family. It's three out of five. Their depression is so crippling that they actually consider suicide. And here we are during Pride Month and we're so proud to be the birthplace of the LGBTQ movement right here in New York, and we'll be celebrating with our pride parade.

But think about the fact that almost 70 percent of LGBTQ+ kids feel persistently sad and hopeless. And 37 percent of them have made a suicide plan. Suicides among black youth are at alarming rates, up 37 percent between 2018 and 2021, and that's really before the effects of the pandemic were felt. So, the statistics are chilling. We can't ignore them, can't ignore them. They hit us right in the face but those are facts we have to come to terms with. They just can't be something you read in the paper one day and turn the page. You can't ignore them.

And as the first mom to govern the great State of New York, this is personal. This is personal. I know what it's like to see your kids in pain. Now, my kids are a little bit older now, but I raised a teenage daughter and a son. This is just when MySpace was the biggest threat, those simple days. But you don't always know the right thing to say. You see your child struggling, you don't know what to do. But how today in 2023 did things get so bad? Youth mental health issues have been on the rise. But I will stand here and say I believe there are two culprits in what we're dealing with in the here and now.

One is one we did not have control over that would be called a global pandemic, but the other one perhaps we do, and that is the influence of social media. And those were the two major themes we heard in our listening sessions. I didn't go in there as adult and tell them that, this is from the young people themselves.

And today, literally three years after the start of the pandemic, so many of our young kids, maybe they don't talk about it openly, so you figure they look okay, they're not really feeling the effects anymore, they're over it. That was back then. So many of them are still dealing with the lingering effects of having to go through this.

And as adults, we are worried about other things. But we didn't exactly understand what was happening to our children, and we need to figure that out. And you really can't blame them. You know, one day everything's normal, then you start hearing about this virus floating around and one week you're visiting grandma, and the next week grandma, and perhaps the person who's taking care of you is on a ventilator and you can't even say goodbye.

That doesn't go away just because we declared the pandemic over. That's with you. That's affected you. You know, you see your parents lost their jobs, cleaning hotels, working as a person in a kitchen, a restaurant. You worry, you hear them worrying about how they're going to pay the bills. You're trying to do homework, but sometimes you have to share the one family device that's bringing all this intelligence from education into your house, and you have to share the cell phone with your younger siblings so they can get their classes. I saw this. This was real and you missed all those milestones. The things that you're supposed to be showing pictures of for the rest of your life, the big prom day, graduations, maybe homecoming party dance, but imagine being a teenager.

All this is going on, and actually people literally come to you for advice. It's the first session we did in March, and this will never leave me. It was incredible to hear these kids' stories, how they cope with the isolation. They felt so disconnected from the normal support systems and they had to be strong themselves because they saw everything around them collapsing. All their stable touchstones were no longer there. They had to be strong for their friends and their family. One of these teenagers told me that three years earlier when she was probably 14 at the time. She says, "I had to become a therapist myself. My mom wasn't around. She had left a family before. My dad was depressed, so he came to her with the problems. Her friends were depressed, so they came to her with their problems," and I said, "Sweetheart, who did you talk to?" And she said, "I didn't have anybody," and it broke my heart.

She's the one who said, we need mental health support in our schools. She's the one who nailed it for us, saying we can't expect them to be the adults. Let them enjoy their lives, let them be kids. We have to make sure that when kids in schools are stressed, they need to have an adult who's not the teacher who are working so hard. My God, what they've been through. They have to educate our kids. The guidance counselors have to think about their next steps in life. The administrators are just trying to keep it all together.

We need professionals in our schools, is what these kids said, and not one mental health counselor for a school of 700, which is what they talked about. Maybe they'll get an appointment three years from now. Come on. So, the pandemic was definitely a source of the trauma, but not the only one. There's so much else going on in the media. I spent a lot of time talking with people in my hometown of Buffalo one year ago after the Tops Supermarket mass shooting. I saw the ripple effects of a community that often sees day-to-day gun violence. But when you feel there's been a target on you that shatters your sense of security, it is gone.

And the young people I talked to in the aftermath of that, forever changed. To think that you can have a bright sunny day on May 14th, you walk into a grocery store, and you see people being shot. Your parent didn't come home with the birthday cake for your three-year-old brother, because he was gunned down standing in the grocery line.

In a country where we have more mass shootings than days in a year. Where school shootings happen so regularly, where we teach kids how to run and hide in between math and social studies. We also have to acknowledge that this is having an effect on them as well. They didn't ask for this. We have to get them through that.

You know, I sat down with the young man, I did an event at the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont on Long Island. And this young kid comes over to me and he goes, "Governor, can I talk to you for a couple minutes?" So, I'm like, "Clear the room. I'm a mom. I got to go into mom mode now. Somebody needs me."

And I went into the principal's office with him, and I said, "What's on your mind, honey?" He says, "I'm just kind of worried about the future." "Okay. You're 12 years old. What part of the future are you worried about?" He said, "I'm scared because I see all the shootings in the schools all the time. It just seems like everything's out of control and everybody's just dying. And what? I'm just scared about this." And I said, "Well, it's not your fault. You have adults to take care of you and protect you. But someday you can be a champion just like other teenagers who've had shootings in their schools who've risen up and become the voice against the insanity of gun violence said, you actually might have a chance to make a difference someday talking about what you're going through." And I said, "I promise I'll take care of you though." I promised him and remind me I'm going to give a call again because our kids need us.

So, what happened during the pandemic is that kids spent more time on social media because they didn't have their structured lives. They didn't have after school sports, they didn't have field trips, they didn't go to school, so they had all this time at home to just get connectivity that they had lost during the pandemic through social media. And now we know it's wreaking havoc on their mental health. Thank God we had the Biden Administration's Surgeon General literally sound the alarm from the federal level. We've not heard that before, but when they sound the alarm, the rest of the country pays attention, and I think that was fantastic. So, let's give a round of applause for calling it out number one.

He said that social media presents a profound risk to our kids. And that's because 95 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are on social media. It's their connection. They can make friends. It was always supposed to be a positive experience, but the truth is it makes them feel worse about themselves and worse about their friendships and relationships. They're sometimes bullied and harassed and shamed often about their physical appearance. They experience racism and hatred and homophobia and xenophobia and all the other phobias that are floating around out there. They're penetrating the minds of our kids at a time when they should be formulating great thoughts, thinking about their future, how they can contribute to our country someday. So, they're scrolling through carefully targeted, crafted messages, all day long, images of glamorous people, and comparing it to their own lives, and they're always going to come up short. The pain creeps in, the sense of worthlessness creeps in, and when teenagers spend three hours a day on social media, they're twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.

So, where do we get help? And this cannot be on the parents alone. Many times, the parents have to work, a lot of single parent households. They have to bring in a paycheck. It's a fact of life. They can't be there watching every movement of their children, it's not reality. So, parents need to know what's going on, they have to be aware. They can talk to their kids after hours without a doubt, but parents aren't likely to be there if there's teenagers, if they've got to work outside the home. So, I knew how bad this could get. I didn't realize that there were social media algorithms targeted toward our kids though, and it's not something that parents can do on their own.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate released a study. They had researchers pose as 13-year-olds - that had to be a fun experience - viewing and liking mental health and body images on TikTok. Within three minutes, TikTok was showing them suicide content. Let me repeat that. Within three minutes of searching on body images and what could be positive and uplifting and messaging that makes them feel good about themselves, they're exposed to content about suicide. And some of these companies are engaging. I appreciate the responsible social media platforms. You are helping. You are part of the answer to the problem, but others just turn away and I think it's long past time that all social medias be called to task. They have to step up and own their own role in what they're doing, but not just acknowledge they have a role to play and that they're creating this, but you better be part of the solution.

They need to understand what they're doing to our kids and that lives are hanging in the balance and stop putting profits over the health of our children. That is cruel, it's irresponsible, and it should no longer continue. I know Congress is considering a number of proposals, like setting minimum ages, requiring parental consent, preventing some of these platforms, and pushing out these algorithms to feed young people harmful content and as well as safeguarding their personal information. But it's time we have real, serious conversations about these bold common-sense measures because every social media company has to do more. I also believe in government, we have a moral imperative to step up as well, and that's what today is all about.

For too long, we've underinvested in mental health care. People weren't encouraged to go into those professions. Helping people in the throes of mental health challenges was not a lot of people want to go into health care, wanted to go in that space, and that's just been a problem for years. The last major investments are attention we gave to mental health in our society in New York was back during the de-institutionalization era when the answer was "Unlock the doors, and people are now on their own, good luck to you." That wasn't exactly a recipe for success either. We didn't take care of people on the outside. We let them fall through the cracks.

And so, I'm proud to say, and I announced this in my State of the State in January, I said, "That era of ignoring and underinvesting in mental health is over. Full stop. It's over." We learned we can do so much more. So, we are overhauling the entire mental health system with $1 billion investment in this year's Budget. Thank you. That's on top of record investments in education, historic amounts of money, almost $35 billion for education, and I'm saying, "Make sure that every school with this extra money has mental health support within each and every school." That's what we have to do. That's how we start unlocking the opportunity to start solving this problem because kids can't go on like this. We're also going to make sure that next year commercial insurers will be required to cover school-based mental health services. How about that? More mental health counselors in the schools this fall.

And again, it just can't be on the shoulders of our teachers. I think we have an opportunity here in New York, whether it's programs for suicide prevention, eating disorders, home-based crisis intervention. We can lead. It's in our DNA. Every significant movement in our nation's history began here in the State of New York, starting with the NAACP being founded here. Civil Rights is part of our DNA. The Women's Rights Movement started here in New York, it's part of our DNA. The LGBTQ Rights Movement started right here in New York, it's part of our DNA. The Environmental Justice Movement started right here in New York, it's part of our DNA. What about the Mental Health Revolution where we say no more? This is New York, my friends. We lead because that's what we do best.

Every single time people need answers, they look to New York. And I'm so excited to find all the ways we can do that. How we expand mental health treatment in our hospitals and bring the beds back online. Help our kids have a place to go, but also the continuum of care. It can no longer be someone ends up in a psychiatric bed, time's up, payments over, you're gone, good luck. That's not a recipe for success either. We need more mental health professionals; we're putting money toward this. But I'm telling you my friends, there is no one right answer, but we don't have an answer that's satisfactory to this Governor. It's just not okay where we are. So, what I'm going to do with this summit, all of you, you're here because you give a damn, you care about our kids today, you care about the next generation, and you all know what you can do.

I'm calling upon every one of these panelists, and they're extraordinary. We've assembled the best and the brightest. You've heard of them all, but we have to throw out our preconceived notions. Leave them at the door. Challenge every single thing you hear. I want our panelists and our moderators to be engaged in a way that you walk out of here and say, "Yes, I now know what I must do."

So, we're asking all of our moderators and panels, every single one of you at the conclusion of your session - this is your Governor telling you to do this now - I want one to three tangible, concrete action items that will pull together, so there will be at least a preliminary report coming out of this day, and this will be the template, the beginning of the answer to the problem. So, don't be timid. Don't think that something's too radical or unconventional or controversial. Those are actually the ones I like the best. Let's challenge. Let's challenge each other. Make sure we walk out of here answering the questions. What further role can our hospitals play our health care institutions? What can we do to help them? What is the safe age? What is the right age for kids to be exposed to social media? What is the role of tech companies right here and now and stop trying to escape your responsibility? How do we hold them accountable?

And when a teenager confides in you finally about their mental health, or you see the signs as a parent or someone who just loves the kids in your neighborhood, or nieces and nephews, whoever you're exposed to, if you see the signs and what are the signs, what do you do about it? But also threats online. There are predators online. I can't tell you how many people I know in our own families where if young people have been encouraged to communicate with someone posing as someone else, and I'm telling you, it has disastrous consequences when young people go to meet that person out of the safety of their home, and they are - Lord, you need to know about this.

Whether you're an educator, you're at a hospital, law enforcement, parents, you all need to know about this. So, what should you say? What should you do? What do the right literacy programs look like in our schools, social media literacy programs in our schools to let people know what's in store, what's happening out there? How do we get more peer-to-peer trainers? The kids all want to talk to other kids, but there's got to be some training. Is there enough diversity in our health care ranks? I can answer you right now. There's not. There's not, but how do we change that dynamic? How do we get kids off their phones, off their devices into healthier activities and relationships?

So, now it's up to you. We launched this, we brought you together, and I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you. I don't believe in, as much as we enjoy saying hello to each other and meeting in this great city, it's not enough for me. I want you to walk out of here today and say, "Yes, we recommit to solving this." We want to collect ideas, we want to bring people together. This is not just about today, my friends, it's about what we're going to do tomorrow. Let us say to ourselves, we will be the agents of change that our children desperately need at this moment in time. And for your willingness to step up and be part of this solution, as the Governor of the great State of New York, I am forever grateful to you.

So, let's go forth and make the change that we've been needing for our kids. Thank you, everybody. I so appreciate you being here today. Thank you.

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