Gov. Kathy Hochul wants New York teens to weigh in on their mental health needs as she pushes an ambitious plan in Albany to reform the state’s psychiatric system. On Thursday, Hochul announced that she will hold a series of listening sessions with young people throughout the state.

“The era of ignoring mental health is over,” Hochul said at a press conference at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in Washington Heights. “We’re going to lean hard into this.”

The first listening session took place just ahead of Thursday’s press conference. But Hochul said she will hold off on continuing the tour until she gets the budget squared away. The deadline for an on-time budget is April 1.

Representatives from the state Offices of Mental Health and Children and Family Services will moderate each forum and they will convene a “cross section” of youth from the host community, according to the governor’s office.

Hochul said she also plans to hold a summit on youth mental health in May with a wide range of stakeholders, including adolescents and their family members, mental health professionals, law enforcement, and technology experts.

The listening tour is part of the governor’s broader response to rising rates of youth mental health challenges, including suicidal thoughts. Earlier this month, she met with Latino community leaders, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for a roundtable discussion about equity in mental and behavioral health access.

The governor noted in Thursday’s announcement that some groups are at higher risk. Black high school students are more likely to attempt suicide than their white, Latino or Asian peers, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And LGBTQ teens are three times more likely to consider suicide than their peers.

Hochul’s executive budget proposal includes more than $1 billion to reform mental health services across the state. Youth mental health is a key component of that plan, with $20 million to bolster school-based mental health services, $10 million for suicide prevention programs targeting at-risk young people, and $12 million to expand the HealthySteps program, which provides support early childhood development issues.

Kay-Danielle Thompson, a Queens teen who spoke at the event, said having sympathetic adults to lend an ear at school was especially important.

“One way I’m managing my stress is by speaking to my guidance counselor,” said Thompson, 17. “I feel connected to Ms. Vega because she is very mindful and lets me guide the conversation. She’s not just following a protocol.”

Thompson said there should be more staff like her guidance counselor who are available to listen to students and help them develop coping mechanisms for stress. She added that her sister, who attends a different high school, doesn’t have the same in-school support.

Thompson also spoke to the need for after-school activities and volunteer opportunities to help uplift teens.

Hochul emphasized the need to address the stigma that prevents teens from seeking help from their parents or adults at school. Her comments echo concerns that New York City Mayor Eric Adams raised in the plan he announced for improving mental health services earlier this month.

But last year, an audit from the state comptroller’s office found that most schools have been falling short on hiring social workers – even as city and state officials have highlighted the importance of school-based mental health services in the wake of COVID-19.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s press conference took place in Washington Heights.