The US Open and open minds on mental illness – New York Daily News

As the US Open returns to New York this week, tennis fans can’t wait to see the sport’s biggest stars. As the sports world will focus on Flushing, many gamers are using their platform to discuss the importance of mental health support. Serena Williams made that point when announcing her retirement, emphasizing the importance of mental fitness and prioritizing wellness.

Serena is not alone. Naomi Osaka – who learned to play tennis in Queens – pulled out of the French Open last year, conceding underlying bouts of depression. Australian pro Nick Kyrgios has opened up about his struggles, saying he hated his life and had “spinned out of control”.

Their challenges aren’t exclusive to tennis elites, but signal the wider need for mental health support – and they send a welcome message to our youngsters that, like their sporting role models, they shouldn’t feel alone when they suffer from depression, stress and anxiety.

Recent studies illustrate how the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated previously rising rates of mental health problems among young people, noting the multiple disruptions to their lives, such as loss of family income, death of a parent or tutor and disruption of their education. The US Surgeon General noted that depressive and anxiety symptoms have doubled worldwide during the pandemic, with 25% of young people showing depressive symptoms and 20% anxiety symptoms.

Emergency room visits for suspected attempted suicide have increased by 51% for teenage girls and 4% for teenage boys in our country. And more of our young people were living in poverty. A study covering a period of just five months found that around 325,000 children were pushed into or near poverty due to the economic downturn.

As the need for mental health support grew during the pandemic, New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) needed to take a hard look at how to adapt to meet the needs of those we serve, and that required integrating support in mental health to recognize the warning signs that students are struggling so that we can connect them to services.

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We needed a new creative approach that tackles these barriers. Last year, NYJTL and Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work, the city’s oldest and largest public school of social work, piloted an innovative solution to identify and respond to health issues mental health faced by our young people.

At five of our 34 sites where we offer free after-school tennis lessons in school settings for young people, our site managers have worked to identify students with increased anxiety, depression and stress. Hunter then sent graduate social work student interns to each location three days a week to speak with the students, also consulting with their parents and guardians. We first started with 10 social work students to make sure they and the young people had enough quality time together.

Such psychosocial support focused on the interrelation of social factors and individual behaviors, and trainees found that young people’s experiences reflected circumstances that predated the pandemic and have worsened since its onset. Opening up and being able to talk to an adult was just the first step; the next was to connect those who struggle to find resources, such as advice.

Responding to these needs cannot be done in silos. We also need the constant support of school leaders, parents and guardians. We all bear this responsibility as we approach the new school year – even if it starts with the recognition that we may have to take that first step instead of expecting students to address their mental health first. . Our young people need people they trust, like teachers and coaches, who can listen without judgment.

Our first year has been encouraging. The students we have supported have shown personal growth, higher self-esteem and greater confidence. So this fall, we’re expanding our program to two more schools (and hope to expand more in the future), with funding from the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development and the Office of Community Services. childhood and family in New York State. . Our vision is to reach even more students in the years to come.

We should consider the words of Naomi Osaka, who said, “Each of us as humans go through something on some level.” By being there not just for our budding tennis stars, but for all young people, we can provide a hand and a heart and help our students succeed on and off the court.

Tambar is the President and CEO of New York Junior Tennis & Learning. Gelman is a professor and director of the MSW program at the Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, CUNY.

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