Virtual Event Draws Over 600 High School Students from Across Westchester County

Over 49 Westchester County High Schools, representing over 600 students, participated in the County’s 6th annual CODA (Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness) You(th) Summit. Co-occurring disorders is the combination of one or more mental health challenges and substance misuse/addiction. Nationally, more than 20 million Americans have co-occurring disorders. The interactive summit provides students with key foundational knowledge about co-occurring disorders, and how to promote understanding and awareness among their peers. Each participating school virtually sent 10-15 students to be a part of this interactive, youth-driven event.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “The Youth Summit is yet another example of Westchester County coming together to teach and work together on issues that our students face every day.  Gaining a better understanding of co-occurring disorders, and empowering our students to know that there are resources, can help save lives.  By changing the stigma of mental health and substance misuse, we can reach those in need and make them feel more comfortable in seeking help.”

Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health Michael Orth said: “We know that mental health and substance misuse are real concerns for younger people. I am proud of the participation in today’s summit.  With so many students engaged and showing leadership we can empower our youth with a better understanding of how to prevent and address co-occurring disorders.”

The Summit was sponsored by the Westchester County Departments of Community Mental Health (DCMH) and the Youth Bureau, together with The Harris Project Inc.  They were joined by Student Assistance Services, their counselors, and designated high school leaders to empower students to be leaders amongst their peers to raise Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness, highlight the value of connecting and supporting one another, and recognize the value of linking to appropriate and valuable resources if they are concerned about themselves or a friend. The Summit provides students the opportunity for team building while exploring and developing resources and activities to prepare for CODA weeks that take place throughout the month of April.

The concept of CODA and its April celebrations derive from the mission and vision of The Harris Project Inc. which was founded in 2013 after the death of 19-year-old Harris Marquesano by accidental overdose. Harris had co-occurring disorders, and the nonprofit is dedicated to prevention, treatment, and transforming the system of care to meet the needs of those with, or at risk of developing, co-occurring disorders.

Founder of the harris project Stephanie Marquesano said: “I was pleased to be able to screen and engage our participants in dialogue around our award-winning public service campaign, You Don’t Know the Half of It, which explores the experiences of our young people, while highlighting that one in two people with substance use issues also struggle with mental health challenges. Harris’s 30th birthday would have been celebrated on April 8th which happens to be a Total Eclipse. It was also exciting to be able to deliver more than 2,000 pairs of custom eclipse glasses to bring co-occurring disorders: out of the shadows and into the light. The advancement of awareness and prevention programming is integral to successful outcomes. This Summit continues to be an important step.”