NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport Youth Services will host a community discussion on children’s mental health Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in City Hall Auditorium.
The discussion is expected to address gaps in services, community-specific factors related to stress and depression, and suggestions for improvements and best practices in other communities.
Andrea Egmont, executive director of Youth Services, said rather than present information, the department plans to create an open forum with a focus on input from adults, children and mental health providers in the city.
“I really wanted to create an opportunity for the community to come out and discuss the factors that are leading to increased depression and anxiety among our children, and the fact that we have a crisis with how hard it is to get into counselors,” Egmont said. “It is really challenging”
“I’m hoping this is a community conversation,” she added. “This is not a presentation; we are coming to hear information.”
Egmont noted that she is “not an expert” on the subject and only has information based on she has heard from people in the community. She said many parents have contacted Youth Services to get information on anxiety-related programs and there has been an increase in children refusing to go to school because of their anxiety.
“We constantly hear from parents who complain that their kids are suffering from anxiety and depression,” Egmont said. “It’s not just teenagers — it’s young kids who won’t go to school because they’re so anxious.”
Egmont also noted that the department’s youth surveys, conducted every two years, have shown a steady number of young people reporting depression.
“They’re not just saying they’re sad, they’re responding to a question that asks if they’ve been feeling sad for two or more weeks. That’s one of the measures of depression so we take that very seriously,” she said.
Egmont highlighted some of the programs implemented in Newburyport over the past 15 years, including Youth Services’ It’s Our 20 campaign, which revolves around the fact that 20 percent of students self-report feeling sad or hopeless. Through the program, Youth Services has trained school staff and community members as well as students.
While the department has seen an overall decrease in the number of self-reported suicide attempts by local students, Egmont said there is still a need to get to the root of what is causing mental health issues for young people in the city.
“There has been a lot done in the city over the years, but now it’s time for us to look at it and find out why it’s happening, what has changed and how to address it,” she said.
Egmont emphasized the importance of young Newburyport voices in the conversation about local children’s mental health and said she hopes many children and teenagers will turn out for the meeting.
“We really want to hear from young people,” Egmont said. “Too often, it’s adults in a room talking about what kids need. I want kids to come out and tell us what they think.”
For more information on the event and nomination forms, contact 978-465-4434 or Beacon@cityofnewburyport.com.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.