The Mayor’s Office of Education’s Be Well, Be Connected program has trained 350 mental health counselors across 174 schools to assist students in response to the increase of mental health challenges among young people in the United States. The trained counselors have the impact of reaching more than 110,000 students in the Greater Houston area.

The trainings align with the City’s bid to become the first Child Friendly City candidate in the United States as designated by UNICEF. The process to receive this designation was led by the Mayor’s Office of Education for over two years, and included developing an Action Plan that incorporates mental health among young people as a priority issue.

“Training adults on issues affecting youth’s mental health, how to support youth navigating these challenges, and resources available can help improve access to care and support young people’s emotional well-being,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I truly believe when we elevate our children, the entire city will be better for it.”

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health, noting “rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24.” Rates are even higher for minority youth and those in the LGBTQ+ community. Locally, the Houston Independent School District in collaboration with the Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium, administered a needs assessment, which asked students, parents, and campus staff to identify key non-academic challenges in 2021-22. Among the findings, 37% of staff respondents said supporting students’ mental health should be the district’s number one priority. More than half of all students in the study reported experiencing some sort of mental health challenge since the start of the school year.

The trainings have been well received by participants which include parents, educators, school administrators, after school program staff (i.e., YMCA), city department staff including the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and Houston Public Library, immigration advocates, and faith based/church staff and pastors. One participant shared, “It’s encouraging to see therapy moving from ‘what’s wrong with you’ to ‘what happened/is happening to you.’ I’m hopeful that we are recognizing and validating some of the most effective approaches to healing.”

The Mayor’s Office of Education also continues to empower youth to share their voice and have open conversations about mental health. Through the UNICEF USA partnership, two CFCI youth leaders from Houston had the opportunity to participate in UNICEF’s World Children’s Day Mental Health Webinar and the Inseparable Mental Health Building Hope Strategy Summit in Washington D.C last month. “I’m very excited to listen to brilliant youth and [… ] to share my battles in mental health with others” said Zen Bollos, a freshman at Texas A&M in the webinar. Nicole Kwan, a youth mental health advocate and student at Houston Community College, who attended the summit, mentions “By having open conversations on mental health, I learn how to build and maintain a healthy relationship with myself.”

For more information about the mental health trainings and how to get involved, please contact Mayor’s Office of Education Program Manager Laura Cuellar at laura.cuellar@houstontx.gov.