The Local Mental Health Crisis Centers Around Youth and Equity
Prepared by Trinity Bowens, Community Impact MSW Intern
In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared youth and adolescent’s declining mental health a national emergency. These challenges faced by our youth affect our entire community, with negative impacts spanning across academic achievement to risky behaviors. For example, in Virginia, high school students with depression are more than two times more likely than their peers to drop out.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of children and adolescents had been trending negatively, with instances of self-harm and suicidal ideation increasing. Data from Voices for Virginia's Children
asserts that in 2019, 1 in 3 high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more.
Emerging research often compares the mental health effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina to the pandemic, with similarities in the ways these events impact school-aged children. Between 2016 and 2020, the national rate of these conditions in youth ages three to 17 increased from 9.4% to 11.8% percent representing 1.5 million children (Annie. E Casey Foundation). A survey conducted by the JED Foundation in 2020 found that 30% of the parents surveyed reported that their children’s mental health had worsened during the pandemic. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Virginia discovered that 56.2% of the 97,000 Virginians aged 12–17 who have depression did not receive any care in the year 2020. Children and youth of color are even less likely to receive mental health care than white children, with 8.7% of Black children and 9.2% of Hispanic/Latino children receiving mental health treatment compared to 17.7% of white children (Voices for Virginia’s Children, 2021).
This issue is further compounded by a lack of professionals in the field. According to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, nearly 70% of the Commonwealth’s localities are federally designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. This means the demand for licensed clinical social workers and social workers is not being met. In addition, the number of certified behavioral health professionals graduating from accredited programs is not enough to maintain the current, inadequate supply. Many behavioral health professionals are retiring or will be in the upcoming decade. The greatest shortage is found in professionals that represent our most disproportionately impacted communities – Black and Brown youth and children.
Increasing Equitable Access to Youth Mental Health Services
Since 2020, the Community Foundation has made discretionary grants totaling over $465,820 to increase equitable access to mental health services for under-resourced children and youth in our community.
In reaction to the staggering need, our discretionary investments will significantly increase in 2023. Here are a few examples of recent support:
- Voices for Virginia’s Children, an independent, multi-issue child policy, research, and advocacy organization, provided policy analysis to improve systems and prepared youth and advocates to engage with the General Assembly, resulting in $2.5 million to create a school-based mental health grant program;
- Greater Richmond SCAN, which conducts programs that work with the community to combat trauma, improve health, and build resilience. They support the Greater Richmond Trauma-Informed Community Network which is a diverse group of over 585 members from more than 170 organizations that all share a commitment to creating a more trauma-informed, resilient, and equitable community;
- ChildSavers, an organization using a coordinated prevention and intervention model to address children’s mental health, equipped mental health services professionals with the technology needed to offer teletherapy, train therapists, and to create group therapy for Black youth.
In addition, the Jenkins Foundation, which is a supporting organization of the Community Foundation, focuses a portion of their grantmaking on access to mental health care. They recently announced their winter 2023 grant awards, which includes $380,000 to 10 organizations who create access to mental health care.
Ways to Support Equitable Mental Health Access