The Life-Saving Impact of SBYSPs Reinforces the Value of All Behavioral Healthcare Services

February 13, 2024

"Not only did our Pathways School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) help Lauren, but because of her connections with this program, Lauren saved her friend." - Lauren Balkan, Deputy Director, Wellspring Center for Prevention, speaking of Lauren, a former SBYSP participant

Lauren was referred to the Pathways SBYSP at Carteret High School by her English as a Second Language teacher because she seemed extremely sad and despondent. Although initially hesitant, Lauren gradually increased her time at Pathways for recreation and later, individual counseling sessions and built relationships with several of the staff.

"We learned that a primary stressor for Lauren was that because she did not have a transcript from her home country, she was placed in 9th grade at age 17. This was very upsetting as it meant she would need to complete extra years of high school and not be with peers her age. SBYSP relentlessly advocated for her to be academically assessed, and she was then placed in 11th grade instead," Balkan shared.

"One day, not during a regularly scheduled time, Lauren came to the SBYSP, asking to speak with someone because she wanted to hurt herself and was thinking about wanting to die, and she was very scared to tell her parents. When Lauren's parents came to meet with the SBYSP staff, they revealed their fears about deportation if their daughter 'caused problems,'" Balkan recalled. "With reassurance and understanding from our staff, Lauren's parents were able to support her in getting the help she needed."

True to its name, Pathways opened communication among Lauren, her parents, counselors and the school. Lauren was assessed and hospitalized. After being discharged, she received in-home services and continued participating in the SBYSP. "Lauren finished the school year and made connections with friends she had met through her classes and Pathways. She stopped in to say goodbye to us at the end of the year, and it was clear that she was doing so much better," Balkan said.

One day early in the current school year, Lauren came to Pathways and shared that a friend was suicidal and needed help. "That friend had confided in Lauren that she had cut her wrist in school and taken pills prior to the school day. The other student was assessed immediately by a Pathways clinician and then sent by ambulance to a hospital for screening," Balkan said.

After the incident, Lauren shared that her friend knew she could go to Pathways, but she did not want to because she wanted to die; she felt she had disappointed others and didn't deserve help. "Lauren told me that she had learned that you can find a solution to every problem, except death. She now believes that there is always hope and things will always get better, and that is why she told someone about her friend," Balkan said. "She saved her friend because she had experienced firsthand that there are people who care and will help you get what you need and with those supports, you can live a happy life."

"Lauren attributes her happiness to the path that she was put on through her connection with the SBYSP, her academic path (she is now graduating), her improvements in mental health, her social connections and now, her desire to help others," Balkan shared.

NJAMHAA urges Governor Phil Murphy to keep in mind Lauren and others' uplifting stories as the FY2025 State Budget is being developed and dedicate sufficient funding to strengthen New Jersey's behavioral healthcare system.

Please click here to read more success stories in NJAMHAA's campaign publication, Diverse Faces: All Are Worthy of Full Investment, and here to watch videos that feature additional inspiring examples of the value of behavioral healthcare services and the workforce who provides them.

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