Data released last week illustrates the toll the coronavirus pandemic took on young Americans’ mental health, who faced a loss of normalcy as the country went into isolation. But the “mental health crisis that America’s young people are experiencing” reflects issues that were already making life tough for kids before the pandemic, the report states.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 33rd edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks overall child well-being in each state by analyzing four areas of data: economic well-being, health, education, and family and community. The authors note that many of the factors examined are linked to the mental health of children and families.
By July 2022, the study’s foreword said, more than 1 million people died in the U.S. from COVID-19, including more than 1,600 youth. During that period, 200,000 kids lost a parent or caregiver. In 2020, an estimated 12% of kids ages 3 to 17 experienced anxiety or depression, compared with more than 9% four years prior. Early this year, 73% of parents thought their child could benefit from counseling, up 5% from 2021. A separate survey this year found that many LGBTQ+ youth who wanted to seek mental health help ran into hurdles, including fear of discussing concerns, permission to access care and lack of affordability.
The report offers policy recommendations, including prioritizing children’s basic health, housing and economic needs, making mental health care accessible to kids nationwide and ensuring kids get culturally respectful counseling and support. It also calls for adequate mental health staff on school campuses, citing the American School Counselor Association’s suggested 250-to-1 ratio of students to counselors.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” the report states. “For young people, emotional and social well-being are especially important, as is the ability to navigate the challenges of life and realize their full potential.”
Massachusetts topped the list as having the best overall child well-being while New Mexico was ranked 50. Among the 16 specific indicators that were analyzed were the number of children in poverty, low birth weight rates, teen and child deaths, educational levels and teen births.