The mental health of our youth and families is one of the most important—if not the most important—issue that we face as a community.

Before the pandemic, the New Mexico Department of Health reported that 32 percent of Socorro’s high school youth reported feeling sad or hopeless.  According to Strategies for Success Survey conducted by the Socorro County Prevention Coalition, this number increased in 2020, with 42 percent of middle school and 43 percent of high school students reporting feeling sad or hopeless.  This strongly correlated with increased use of substances including marijuana and alcohol, and an increase in the number of students seriously considering suicide (27 percent middle school, 19 percent high school students), or who have attempted suicide (14 percent middle school, 10 percent high school).  Girls report higher mental health risk than boys, and students who identify as LGBTQ+ (about 13 percent of Socorro area high school students) report much higher concerns.

Given these statistics, focusing efforts to improve mental health is one of the most important actions we can take as a community to support our students and families.  Doing so will not only decrease substance use and abuse, but will provide the mental capacity for our youth and families to focus on developing skills to pursue rewarding careers.

As they say, it takes a village. Specifically, it takes collaborations between community partners to creatively share existing resources, identify new ones, and strategically plan to build the collective impact needed to invest in the most precious resource for the future of Socorro, our students.

The good news is that these partnerships are growing and working together to make this happen.  For example, organizations such as SCOPE (the Socorro County Health Council) have worked to coordinate efforts across the county to meet medical and mental health needs of our community (among other things).  In 2019, Socorro County became one of the first to adopt the 100% Communities initiative of the Anna, Age Eight Institute.  The initiative provides strategies for communities to work toward the goal of 100 percent of county residents having access to 10 services needed to survive and thrive.  Mental health, parent supports, and community schools are three of the services particularly relevant to addressing the mental health of our youth.

Recently, the Socorro Consolidated School District (SCSD) was one of three districts to receive an NMPED Project AWARE grant that will provide the capacity to coordinate mental health services over the next five years.  This includes hiring a program manager who will establish strategic plans, coordinate trainings, and ensure project sustainability after the grant period, a mental health clinician dedicated to serve students in the district, and a program navigator who will match clinical services to the students who need them.  Project AWARE compliments existing resources, including services provided by the district’s Crisis Response Team, QPR suicide prevention training for teachers provided by SCOPE, and the Warrior Wellness Coalition which operates as a community schools coordination team to provide food, clothing, and other resources for students and families.  SCSD also received a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) grant that supports therapy training and materials for SCSD’s mental health team, restorative practices training, and teacher SEL support and materials.  In addition, federal ARP-II funds support a navigator who provides resources to students identified as homeless.

While it is true that Socorro students and families desperately need mental health support, there is hope through the collective impact of our strong community partnerships.  The existing efforts are also a major step toward the vision of 100 percent Socorro—where 100 percent of Socorro residents have access to all services needed not only to survive, but ultimately to thrive.

Sharon Sessions, Guest Columnist