Survey Reveals Problems, Challenges Facing Houston Youths
March 1, 2008
Drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, truancy and gangs are the biggest problems facing Houston area youths today, according to a recent behavioral health care survey of 13- to 18-year-olds in Harris County.
Depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) also were among the issues identified by the 250 survey respondents.
The youth perceptions survey was part of a community-wide planning effort to strategically address children's mental health needs in Harris County in the next 10 years. The Joint City/County Commission on Children is leading the process with the help of a $99,970 grant from the Hogg Foundation.
"The survey results underline the need for public education in our community to promote mental well-being for our youth, significantly reduce health risks and enhance the quality of life these children deserve," said Maureen Hackett, chair of the planning process steering committee. "Given this information, providers and policy makers will be better equipped to craft the programs and services needed to determine the appropriate and best
practice for Harris County's youth and their families."
Survey responses are helping identify and prioritize the kinds of mental health services needed in the Houston area. The survey was taken by youths from a variety of organizations such as youth clubs, after-school programs, Communities in Schools, the Mayor's Youth Council and the Mayor's Anti-Gang Office.
According to the survey, youths attribute their peers' mental health problems to a variety of causes, with stress being the number one factor. Other causes included drug and alcohol abuse, poor parenting, abnormal brain function and "not trying hard enough to get better."
Respondents also said their peers most likely would respond to someone with a mental illness by making fun of the person behind his or her back and saying mean things to the person or calling him or her names.
Most youths said they would be willing to talk to a friend or family member when feeling stressed, upset or in need of support. Less than one-fourth said they would seek help from a school counselor, teacher, youth worker, social worker or psychologist. And three percent of the respondents – eight youths – said they would call a crisis hotline. Still others said they would pray, try harder to think and act normal, or simply wait for the problem to go away.
"The survey spoke volumes regarding youth perceptions of behavioral health and service needs. This input in the planning process presents the youth voice and is integral to developing and expanding effective prevention and treatment strategies," said Sherea McKenzie, the commission's executive director.
The commission, made up of Houston community leaders, elected officials, consumers and mental health experts, is using a three-pronged approach to engage stakeholders and the public in the planning process.
The commission is holding public and stakeholder sessions, meeting with experts, visiting mental health services and programs for children, and gathering and analyzing data, research and other information on children's mental health services and needs in Houston.
"The commission's strategic plan will help determine the direction and funding of children's mental health services in Houston for the next decade. The group is doing a great job of including stakeholders from across the board to make sure the community as a whole is represented and heard during the process," said Vicky Coffee-Fletcher, program officer for the Hogg Foundation.
The strategic planning process officially kicked off in July 2007 with a daylong workshop and a stakeholder listening session. Process participants have included local elected officials, mental health advocates, service providers, consumers and their families, educators, business leaders and representatives from local government and health care agencies.
The commission will submit its strategic plan to the Hogg Foundation later this year. Commission members will work with stakeholders to distribute the plan in the community and to build local support for its implementation.
The commission's plan also will help the foundation identify and prioritize funding of children's mental health services in Houston through the Ima Hogg Endowment Fund. The fund was established by Miss Hogg and is dedicated solely to funding mental health activities in the Houston area. Miss Hogg was a longtime Houston resident and philanthropist who made significant contributions to promoting and improving mental health in Texas.
To learn more about the planning process and upcoming public meetings, contact Joseph Le, outreach coordinator, at (713) 437-6322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.