Mental Health: A pandemic among Ohio kids and beyond
That’s how the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry describes the situation.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As many as ONE IN FIVE children struggle with a mental health issue every year, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
But the answer behind why kids are struggling is incredibly complex. So are the solutions to fix it.
19 News is committed to finding examples of success, highlighting what is working and what needs to be improved.
THE NUMBERS ARE ALARMING
“She didn’t want to go to school anymore. She would cry everyday all the way to school,” Kim Abate told 19 News.
Kim’s 8-year-old daughter Carina Abate was overwhelmed with anxiety.
Carina used to love school, but Kim says, something changed: “Everyday, wanting to come home.”
A new school building and the bus ride seemed to be triggers.
But for Kim, it was a helpless feeling.
“For a parent, you don’t know what to do, you try to talk to them and they’re crying. It was pretty sad,” Kim said.
Carina is not alone. The number of kids in Ohio struggling with anxiety or depression is skyrocketing.
The ‘2022 Kids Count Data Book’ finds the percentage of children experiencing anxiety or depression jumped from 9.2% in 2016 to 13.1% in 2020.
“Anxiety is definitely one of the top concerns,” Christine Haught, the social worker at Carina’s Twinsburg Elementary School, said.
“There’s a lot of social skills that we’ve seen lately that are kind of lacking with kids and whether that’s because these are pandemic kids or because they just don’t know,” Haught said. “Social media and online gaming and things like that are definitely the cause of some of the behaviors.”
Carina was lucky because help came quickly for her. As soon as her mom reached out to the teacher, Christine was called in.
“She met with her every Monday after that, to calm her down for the week,” Kim said. “It slowly started dwindling out of her and now she’s fine.”
FINDING POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
The Twinsburg School District, along with 60 other schools throughout Northeast Ohio, partner with Beech Brook for school-based counseling.
Beech Brook’s focus is on prevention and early intervention for kids who are struggling.
There are seven counsellors for 1,400 students in Twinsburg Schools, which breaks down to 200 to 1.
The average student to counselor ratio in Ohio is 403 to 1, the 19th worst in the country.
Christine said, when it comes to having a counselor or therapist in the schools, “It’s so important because even though the teachers and staff and administrators want to help these kids, they don’t have the time.”
Thirty states mandate school counselors in their elementary or high schools. Ohio is not one of them.
“We know the faster they get help, the better outcome there’s going to be,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said.
The governor insists Ohio is investing in solutions.
“We’ve already put $1.3 billion into that and our current budget puts another $600 million or so into that,” DeWine previously told 19 News. “That is a real opportunity for schools to be able to get help for their students that is needed.”
But there’s another major challenge.
For that money, or any kind of mandate to work, you need people to fill these roles.
And Ohio is among 41 states with a “severe shortage” of child psychiatrists, therapists or social workers, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
For every 100,000 children in Ohio, there are just 11 psychiatrists. For the 1.6 million students in Ohio, there are only 4,000 counselors.
“I know we still have moms and dads out there who are told you’ve got to wait, and that simply is not acceptable,” DeWine said.
“NOT ENOUGH RESOURCES”
The governor says solutions to fix that need to start at the college level.
“What we could do is to pay students who have to take internships, who have to work what usually is for nothing, to actually pay them for doing that,” DeWine said.
The governor expects that will keep more students on track to enter the field.
In the meantime, DeWine suggests expanding mobile response and telehealth services.
Carrie Tulino-Bell, a social worker for the past 15 years, said that better pay — to attract and maintain mental health workers —should be part of the solution as well.
“People need to be able to support themselves and a lot of times there are not enough resources to support the work we’re doing,” Tulino-Bell said.
Tulino-Bell said burnout is real, as well, and a lot of people are leaving the field because they’re overwhelmed by the workload.
She believes we need to make mental health more of a priority, before struggles turn into a crisis.
“We save more money as a community if we invest in prevention,” she said. “Because if we catch it sooner, it is less of a strain on all of the systems, including the schools, including jails, prisons, hospitals... you name it.”
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