HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — With the new school year comes new responsibilities and pressures for students to perform their best.

“Mental illness does not discriminate,” said Michael Cornell, superintendent of Hamburg Central School District and president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendent Association. “In our groups and in our athlete talks, you might have somebody who is the number three student in the class with a 99 average who is going to Purdue, and a young person who struggles to get out of bed every day, and who struggles to pass their classes, that they’re sitting in a group talking to each other about how they’re feeling because they’re going through the same thing.”

In 2018, Hamburg schools started their ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ initiative, where staff members are trained to understand the signs and the symptoms of mental distress. Their youth mental health program continues to grow and evolve, and this year they’re expanding their student athletes talks to normalize the conversation of mental health and the pressures they face on and off the field.

“We became more and more aware that student athletes were folks who really had some mental health needs that were sometimes going unnoticed or unrecognized and sometimes those students were the ones least likely to seek out the support,” said Tom Adams, athletic director and middle school principal for Hamburg schools. “This year the idea is to build on that foundation and to continue seeking out support but also understanding how to deal with the pressures of not just school and everyday life, but also on the field as you’re either competing, practices-games-matches or meets.”

Cornell has worked alongside other members of the county to work towards making sure these services are not only offered within the school doors but also to ensure children are connected to the resources they need throughout Erie County. They have created meetings that help connect the resources in our community with one another.

“What we want to do is learn about each other where our care happens to get together, we can help families and kids navigate from one setting to another and back again in a way that’s not frustrating,” Cornell said. “When people experience frustration, that’s where they stop, and if they stop that’s where the cycle of other things start to happen.”

To find out more about the mental health resources offered at Hamburg Schools, visit their website here.

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Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.