SAN ANTONIO – A novel coronavirus pandemic, remote learning, and social unrest in 2021 is creating a high suicide rate that is being considered a national emergency. Now, free mental health help is a click away, tailored for teenagers who are still stinging from the series of blows they were dealt.
It’s called Project YES, a localized version of a national mental health outreach website being offered by UT Health San Antonio and the city of San Antonio.
It comes at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that for teen girls in 2020, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts rose by 51% from the year before. Dramatic numbers like that call for dramatic intervention, but also a user-friendly approach that makes it easy for kids to tap into anonymously.
Project YES is tailored for kids to talk to other kids about what they are experiencing, with very real coping advice, learning modules and feedback. The voices of teens like Christine, who said, “This isolation led me to attempting suicide because I didn’t think I’d get the help I needed,” are filled with emotion and sincerity.
Some of the volunteers recorded for the site offer their tips for dealing with real-life issues, such as the pain of their parent losing their job.
“With the first two hundred youth that have taken this program here in San Antonio, we’ve seen a 62% decrease in hopelessness, a 55% decrease in self-hate and a 64% percent improvement in perceived control,” said Dr. Kristen Plastino, an OB-GYN at UT Teen Health.
Plastino and others say that these are huge outcomes for a demographic that has had little intervention at a time when so much was taken away.
“The amount of anxiety and depression that I am seeing in my office right now is astronomical. And I feel so much, not only for those youth, but for those parents, those caregivers that don’t know what to do,” she said.
The Project YES site is open to anyone, including parents who Plastino said have to get past the guilt that they are responsible for their child’s suicidal thoughts.
The program was initiated at Stony Brook University in New York. UT Teen Health, under the leadership of Plastino, is expanding the program to South Texas with the goal of tailoring it to local youth, including those of Hispanic, Black and indigenous descent. The whole project is funded through a $260,000 contract awarded in November by the city of San Antonio.
Project YES has a goal of reaching 3,000 kids with free mental health help by the end of the year. It’s available in English and Spanish, and is in fact, free to anyone online, including teachers, churches and other organizations that need a tool kit of this nature.
“We can send them with a script so that they know what to say, how to approach these mental health needs of our youth in a very sensitive, inclusive manner because we have youth of all different backgrounds that we want to make sure that we include, and that we’re not excluding anyone based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity,” Plastino said.
You can find more on Project Yes on their website.