New Jersey school provides mental health support for students, with results: “I’m having more of a smile on my face now”


If you or someone you know is in crisis, get help from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988

In addition, help is available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. Call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-6264 or text “HelpLine” to 62640. There are more than 600 local NAMI organizations and affiliates across the country, many of which offer free support and education programs. 

A high school in New Jersey is providing mental health support through a program that offers at-risk students academic help and teaches strategies for coping with emotions — and students say it has helped them. 

In 2020, the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District in New Jersey started the STRIVE program, helping students like 15-year-old Alex Kumar, who has struggled with depression. 

“I’m having more of a smile on my face now. I’m being more positive,” Kumar told CBS News. 

Social worker Kristen Madden runs the STRIVE program at Parsippany Hills High School, where she meets with Kumar and two other students in a small group three days a week. In addition to academic support, Madden teaches her students coping strategies from breath work to a technique called “grounding,” which helps people focus on the present and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. She recently taught students how to focus on things during difficult moments that they can see, touch, taste, smell and hear.

“It just kind of brings you back to focus on things,” Madden said. “If you’re in the middle of a state of anxiety, and you have to look around and pick five things to see and really focus on them, it interrupts the cycle of anxiety.”

Madden also stresses the benefits of journaling and having students focus on the positive aspects of their lives as a way to be in a state of “here and now” and feel gratitude.  

“I think with teenagers, that’s especially huge ’cause they compare themselves so often to other students,” she said. 

Maddie Torres, a high school student at Parsippany Hills High School, she she has struggled with anxiety and depression, and that the STRIVE program has helped her.

Recently, she was struggling with online teasing. And she’s not alone — as many teenagers today grapple with issues related to social media. 

Numerous studies have shown an association between increased social media use and depression, a mental health disorder characterized by persistent sadness and loss of interest or pleasure. Researchers found that teens compare themselves to curated images posted online, and feel inadequate and insecure.  

When it comes to talking about mental health, Torres said she wants others to know that “it’s not good to keep it bundled together, because you will literally lose your mind.”

“It’s happened to me before, and it’s not a good feeling,” she said.

Kumar said “it’s okay to ask for help.”

“You don’t need to suffer in silence. It’s all right,” he said. “Not everybody’s going to accept, but you will find the right people.”

CBS News and local CBS-owned television stations spent more than six months exploring mental health in teenagers. CBS News streaming and CBS Stations’ streaming networks will air the “Connecting the Dots” documentary Wednesday which explores the global mental health crisis. You can also watch it here:

Documentary “Connecting the Dots” explores the youth mental health crisis



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