Children’s mental health is facing a critical system change moment right now. There has never been a moment when mental health needs were more prevalent or more normalized. There are few moments when all children and parents experience a collective trauma. There is more awareness and understanding of how racial and historical trauma is connected to mental health and wellness. We must take this opportunity to build a new approach to mental health services and supports for children. The first steps for this new approach start with the investments that the governor, state agencies and legislature will make in the early days of 2021.
Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Virginia experienced a mental health issue ranging from ADD to depression/anxiety. A look at the report from Mental Health America on their online screening tool found a 93 percent increase over the previous year of individuals seeking help through the online screening during the pandemic. There was a 9 percent increase among youth 11-17 taking the screening by September 2020 compared to 2019.
We know from previous research that community disasters or traumas can produce high levels of mental health issues in children with as many as half of children in a community experiencing mental health issues after a disaster. In 2018-19 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly 61 percent of Black or Latino children in VA experienced trauma. In the future, our systems must respond to this disproportionate impact and the context of racial & historical trauma.
Because we know that mental health concerns will increase for children in their prevalence and severity we must plan now to build systems to support mental health and meet kids where they are—in child care settings, virtual classrooms, online peer groups and more acute treatment methods.
To cast a wide net for mental health services and to help children and families recover from the trauma of the pandemic and years of economic hardship and unjust systems, policymakers must ask this question in every legislative meeting and in every discussion with agencies and advocates: “Where are we addressing mental health needs in this system?”
Some ideas about how policymakers can begin:
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