As Utah youth show more mental health issues, schools seek answers

There is a lot of speculation about what is causing the crisis in young people’s mental health. The pandemic has certainly played a role, but long-standing issues like social media usage and concerns about housing and food security are also contributing.

“There are so many theories and it’s really hard to figure out,” said Dr. Neil Davis, pediatrician at Intermountain Healthcare. Education and Mental Health Coordinating Council recently.

Whatever the cause, he noted that data from the hospital system shows that the number of behavioral health-related emergency room visits for children has tripled in the past five years. School districts are also seeing increasing cases of younger students — as early as kindergarten — struggling with serious mental health issues.

Peter Ingle, specialist in Murray School Districtsaid his team is thinking about the best steps to take on the challenges.

Although there is a social worker in each school, as well as behavior support technicians who work with students with the most difficult problems, school staff still face resistance from parents and difficulties in getting children into dedicated treatment centres.

“I think that’s one of our main concerns…what is our role?” he said. “It is not clearly defined and there is no established mechanism to support this type of collaboration [with other organizations].”

The board discussed various solutions to the far-reaching challenges that include screening students before they enter kindergarten and operating a underutilized component of Medicaid to help better coordinate physical health services with mental health.

“Medicaid has enormous potential to help children, especially young children, especially the most needy children,” said Jessie Mandel, health policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children. “This is an area where we are already making significant investments as a state. But I’m very excited for the work of this group to think about how we can maximize and innovate across the board. of the Medicaid program.

Ingle said using Medicaid funds and regular child screenings would help families tap into additional resources and identify problems before they become problems. It’s also important, he said, to continue to fight the stigma around mental health, especially with parents, so people are more willing to seek out the help available.

“I think we’re already past the ‘is this a problem?’ “, did he declare. “There doesn’t seem to be much hesitation about it. And that gets you over the first hurdle. Now here we are [phase of] “OK, so what do we want to do and where do we best put our efforts?”

The council voted to prioritize an awareness campaign on early childhood mental health and exploring ways to better integrate mental health treatment with physical health care. He will make specific funding requests or policy recommendations to the state legislature in the coming year.

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