More than 13% of Utah children struggle with anxiety or depression, or both.
According to a new 50-state report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children in Utah rank fourth in the nation in education, economics and community well-being. However, like most children across the country, children in Utah face a “mental pandemic on top of a pandemic” when it comes to mental health. This information comes from the KIDS COUNT 2022 data book.
“Utah’s policymakers have an opportunity to help these children by directing our state’s budget surpluses toward providing the mental and behavioral health care these children need and deserve,” said Martin Muñoz. , director of KIDS COUNT at Voice for Utah Children. “Our children have been struggling for too long and the trauma of the COVID pandemic has made matters worse.”
Muñoz said that instead of spending so much money on infrastructure, he hopes the state will invest more in mental health issues and even in ways to encourage people to enter the profession.
“There is a shortage of mental health professionals and we need more to meet the demands,” he said. “Our children face a big struggle in this area, especially children between the ages of 3 and 17. It’s starting to be on a pandemic level of its own. Right now, it’s really hard to make an appointment without a long wait, so we really need to open up opportunities to enter the mental health profession.
Data shows that almost 12% of children aged 3 to 17 suffered from anxiety and/or depression in 2020, up from 9.4% in 2016. Figures show that 7.3 million children in this age group nationwide began experiencing these mental health issues in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase of 1.5 million in just four years.
According to the report, children of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+ have been hit harder than their peers. Among high school students, 12% of Black students, 13% of two or more races, and 26% of Native American or Alaska Native students have attempted suicide, and 23% of LGBTQ+ students have attempted suicide.
“During the pandemic, children have not been able to go out and socialize as they normally do. This is a contributing factor to the problem,” Muñoz said. “But our society has really changed. Everyone is connected 24/7. There is no more dead time. There are constant movements and the children grow up too fast. They face many difficulties and they must be able to have this channel to talk with someone and help them deal with these difficulties.
The Data Book reports state and national data in 16 indicators across four domains – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. States are ranked according to the overall situation of children. This year’s report shows a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures.
“It is certainly our first opportunity to see how this pandemic has affected our nation and our state,” Muñoz said. “I think it’s time to invest in our children because we will all benefit. They are our future. They are the ones who will take care of you and me when we grow up. We need them to be well educated, healthy and live a life they want to live to be themselves.