ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – October 4 marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. Anxiety and depression have been on the rise for teens since the pandemic began, but how are local school districts tackling the growing problem?

The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention of the Capital Region has offered a new program to local high schools that aims to provide young people with the tools to notice mental health problems in themselves/others and to reach out to a trusted adult for help.

This new conversation often utilizes a simple visual with a significant impact: A brain with arms and legs.

“Sort of reminding us that our brain is part of our body and mental health is physical health,” Sandra Goldmeer, Area Director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said.  “We don’t ask our students with a medical condition like diabetes to just figure it out and not take medication.”

Goldmeer said she hopes the program also reaches adults, as many of these concepts may be new to parents and educators. 

“Our teens, who we always say, they should be resilient. Well, resiliency needs to be taught,” Goldmeer said.

This pandemic has not been easy on teenagers in particular. According to the American Psychology Association, 81% percent of teenagers ages 13-17 said they have experienced “more intense stress during the pandemic.” 

Additionally, one in five students ages 13-18 has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, as reported by the Mental Health Association of New York State. 

“Having a class of 25, where five of those students can have a mental health disorder, is alarming,” Gladys Cruz, Questar III BOCES District Superintendant, said. “We can’t do this alone. Educators aren’t mental health professionals.”

The AFSP’s program, “It’s Real: Teens and Mental Health,” has been implemented at Niskayuna High School and Mohonnasen High School this school year. The hope? To change the way students, educators, and even parents talk about mental health and the stigma surrounding it.