Nonprofit helps New York City students deal with stress through yoga
NEW YORK -- Behind the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, and tucked away beneath another busy school day, there's a break -- 45 tranquil minutes in the basement of New Design High School on the Lower East Side.
It's where kids forget about calculus and chemistry and clear their minds through yoga.
"It gives you a release out of all the stress that you've been going through, especially during school, going through the college process, stuff like that," senior Olivia De'Okoro said.
New Design is one of seven New York City public schools currently offering yoga courses through Bent on Learning, a nonprofit that launched in 2001 and then started teaching stress management at schools near ground zero after 9/11.
Bent on Learning invited CBS2's Tim McNicholas to do a course and showed him how they navigate a new challenge.
"The pandemic has definitely had a significant impact on kids, and we hope the practices that we're teaching them will give them the skills that they need to master their emotions," said Anne Desmond, the nonprofit's executive director.
It's one tool in the battle against a complex problem.
Experts say feelings of sadness and suicidal thoughts in kids were already rising, and then the pandemic only made the problem worse.
"We're not a panacea by any means. There's many things that help kids' wellbeing," Desmond said.
Data shows states across the country may be lacking when it comes to another tool. A recent study found 60% of youth with major depression do not get any mental health treatment.
"We're facing a national crisis of children's mental health. At the same time, there are not enough child and adolescent psychiatrists," said Dr. Warren Ng, a professor at Columbia University and the president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, or AACAP.
Data from that organization shows all 50 states suffer a statewide shortage of child psychiatrists, defined by the AACAP as fewer than 47 per 100,000 children.
When asked what that means for kids in this country, Ng said, "It means that we're facing the reality of underinvestment, in terms of acknowledging the mental health needs of children and adolescents."
New York and New Jersey fare better than most states, and when it comes to counties, Manhattan is a rare example where the number of child psychiatrists exceeds the need. But there is room for improvement in New York City.
"Particularly children of color, communities of color and lower income. Those kids continue to be underserved, even within heavily enriched environments like Manhattan or New York City," Ng said.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the problems during his State of the Union address, and the White House recently announced a $280 million grant program to help schools hire more mental health counselors.
"When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at their schools," Biden said.
Back at New Design High School, freshman Estreya Miranda said she's feeling a change from how she felt during the height of the pandemic.
"I was really stressed and my mental health wasn't that good," Miranda said. "Having yoga and being able to be with yourself and have some sort of peace of mind is really nice."
She just started her second semester of yoga, after enjoying the first one so much.
The moments of stillness, beneath a city that never stops moving.
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