Letter to the Editor

Looking at the Health of Our Students

Dear Editor,

In the Thursday, April 11, 2019 edition of The Winthrop Sun Transcript, reporter Kate Anslinger provided a poignant snapshot of the behavioral health of Winthrop youth gleaned from data collected by CASA in 2018 via the Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) of Grades 6-12.  Of particular concern, the data show 29 percent of students felt depressed for two weeks or more, and 16 percent actually experienced suicidal thoughts. 

A closer look at the data show 40 percent of students in grades 6-12 reported having depressive symptoms compared to 29 percent in 2016. (The Massachusetts 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey rate for Grades 9-12 was 27 percent).  Concerned by the results, the Winthrop Board of Health invited Superintendent Howard and LeighAnn Eruzione to the Board’s March meeting to discuss how Winthrop, as a community, might address the issues from a public health perspective.  Superintendent Howard, intimately aware of the issues, noted the lack of sufficient adjustment counselors available to students and staff as a major barrier, but praised the collaborative partnership the district has with CASA and the Winthrop Police Department.  Though her strategic plan includes well-being goals at every grade level, and includes monthly assemblies, more resources are critical.  Per LeighAnn Eruzione, CASA Executive Director, CASA’s funding is slated solely for substance-use prevention, not mental health, however CASA’s after school program is open to all youth, and attendance is growing.  Additionally, Meredith Hurley, Director of Public Health and Clinical Services, is working with the Boston University Bridge Master’s Program to promote health consumerism by youth.

Despite all these efforts, unfortunately, one in seven children between the ages of six and 18 struggles with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (2016 National Survey of Children’s Health).  Failure to diagnose or treat puts students at risk for poor academic outcomes, substance use, and unemployment in adulthood.

The Board applauded Superintendent Howard and Ms. Eruzione for their dedication and commitment to our students, and pledged to advocate on their behalf for more resources.   The Board is hopeful that the PNA findings along with the recent Community Health Needs Assessment will inform the future work of the Regional Collaborative between Winthrop, Chelsea, and Revere, bringing much needed programs to the three communities.  Parents/guardians are urged to seek treatment if they have any concerns about their children’s mental health.

Winthrop Board of Health

Bill Schmidt, Chair

Dr. Astrid Weins, Vice Chair

Susan Maguire, Member

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