Miranda Cruz has been through a lot at just 23 years old. She’s dealt with mental health issues since she was young, but didn’t realize it until getting older.

She says these struggles came to the forefront in 2020, while she was pregnant at the onset of the pandemic.

“My child had a very serious brain abnormality," the Kingston native said. "So that, I think, caused a lot of trauma.”

What You Need To Know

  • Ulster County is trying to destigmatize mental health struggles among youth

  • The county's youth services bureau has launched "Hope and Healing" discussion groups, where young people can share their stories with each other in a non-judgemental setting

  • Youth Services Bureau Commissioner Nina Dawson says she hopes to bring these discussion groups to schools in the fall

Youths’ mental health struggle is an issue nationwide. According to the group Mental Health America, almost 10% of young people deal with severe major depression. New York ranks as 12th best in the country at treating youth mental health. Some believe more needs to be done.

In Ulster County, there’s a guiding light for Cruz and others through the work that the county’s youth services bureau is doing to address the stigma of mental health support.

“Be more comfortable with saying, ‘hey, I feel uncomfortable about something. I’d like to talk to somebody,' " said Ulster Youth Bureau Commissioner Nina Dawson. "Because most often, we find out about things when they become a trauma.”

Dawson’s work includes a “Hope and Healing” discussion group, where young people can share their mental health stories in an open, non-judgmental setting with each other, along with professionals. She's hoping the group will kick off more collaboration between youth services and Ulster’s new mental health department so that young people can get more access to the mental health services they need.

“Nina has been great with helping me recruit youth so we can bring youth together to talk about how can we make our system better," said Tomasine Oliphant, the Children's SPOA coordinator at Ulster's mental health department. "This collaboration piece of really revitalizing how we provide care in the community in a holistic manner.”

Cruz spoke at the event, saying it was cathartic experience. She said she’ll keep sharing her story at future events, to make a difference in other young people’s lives.

“Just like a breath of fresh air to know that … because you never know who’s listening and you really never know what someone is going through," Cruz said. "So sometimes it’s necessary to use your voice, especially in situations like this.”