How 4 States Are Trying To Improve Student Access to Mental Health Care
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Resources: How 4 States Are Rushing to Improve Student Access to Mental Health Care

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“Beginning next school year, New Jersey youth in 7th through 12th grade will have access to depression screening in school.”

By Marianna McMurdock

Families, lawmakers, doctors and educators across the political spectrum are in agreement: The kids are not all right.

Maryland, Colorado, California and New Jersey are among the states that have recently passed laws that expand access to youth mental health care. New protocols and resources are aimed at getting care to those who need it most — particularly youth experiencing abuse at home, uninsured and LGBTQ+ students.

In all four states, rates of youth struggling with substance use and mental illness have worsened with pandemic isolation and inconsistent schooling. Nationally, only 8-9 percent of students of color with major depressive episodes received treatment, compared to 22 percent of their white peers.

“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020,” an October statement from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association read.

But increasing demand for services comes in an era of limited capacity. There’s only about 9.75 child psychiatrists per 100,000 youth under 19. According to the AACAP, there should be more than four times as many available, particularly because providers are congregated in large cities. Most U.S. counties don’t have a single child psychiatrist.

The groups declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health late last month, advocating for increased access and funding for telemedicine, school-based mental health care and workforce development programs for practitioners.

Some recent laws fund free therapy and depression screening for youth. And in California, all middle and high schoolers in health class will learn about mental health and illness.

Statewide reforms have historically been slow to meet student needs. While many like Wisconsin are now allocating federal relief money for school-based mental health care, it’s not yet clear from legislation which programs may take root.

Between half and one third of U.S. children experience trauma before adulthood. And for children aged 5 to 11, visits to the emergency room for mental health reasons increased 24 percent last year. The U.S. Department of Education even published a resource report in late October to help educators and schools better support children…

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