The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
New reports say that the mental health of children in Tennessee – and all across America – is getting worse. A variety of factors may be to blame, including the repercussions that came from schools being closed during the pandemic and access to social media.
This report states that while weekly Emergency Department visits for mental health conditions, suicide concerns, and drug overdoses have decreased since fall of 2021 among 12 to 17-year-olds, as of last fall, weekly visits for these concerns were at or higher than the pre-pandemic baseline among females in that age group.
This CDC report says that nearly 3 in 5 (57%) of American teen girls felt “persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021 – an increase of nearly 60% over the past decade and the highest level reported in that same time period.
The Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy polled parents last fall on a variety of topics related to their children. Published this month, the poll found that 1 in 3 parents have a child diagnosed with a mental health condition and their child’s mental health, including risk of suicide, was number 2 out of 5 top concerns that parents had.
And the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory last week that states that children and teens who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media double the risk of mental health issues including depression and anxiety. On average, a typical teen spends at least 3 and a half hours a day on social media.
“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” said CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D. Ethier believes the solution is to put “the right programs and services in place” in schools.
Heather Kreth, a pediatric psychologist with The Center for Child Health Policy at Vanderbilt University says that mental health services are lacking both nationally and within the state.
Lawmakers passed a $230 million school safety bill earlier this year that sets aside $8 million for additional behavioral health funding while The Youth Mental Health Safety Act, which would have protected children by blocking harmful content on electronic devices, was deferred until next year’s session.
Meanwhile, a $250 million mental health trust fund that Governor Bill Lee first advocated for in his 2020 State of the State address has yet to be put to work. Lee pushed for the money to be set aside “to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19.” Lee wanted more clinical services in schools, mental health awareness, suicide prevention, and bullying prevention among other programs.
The fund has so far earned $7.1 million in interest. The majority of the fund – $225 million – is designed to accrue interest in order to provide perpetual funding for services but it remains uncertain when the remaining $25 million sitting in a special reserve account will be spent on mental health programs.
A board oversees the fund and may authorize funds to be spent by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. According to Tennessee Treasury spokeswoman Shelli King, $8.75 million in spending has been authorized but decisions on how it will be spent are not expected until sometime in the coming year.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.