Members of the Illinois State Senate’s Behavioral and Mental Health Committee met Thursday morning in Chicago to hear a number of expert reports on mental health and wellness issues facing faced by young people in the region.
In recent years, schools and mental health clinics have documented how the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence, widespread use of social media among children and more have contributed to higher rates of depression. , anxiety and suicidal ideation among young people nationwide.
The issues have also impacted young people in Evanston, and administrators at Evanston Township High School have spoken at board meetings in recent months about the need for expanded student support services and the importance of just talking regularly about mental health.
Thirty-three percent of all ETHS students said stress had impacted their daily life for at least 11 days in the past month, while 30% said they felt sad or desperate on most days for at least two weeks, according to student survey responses in the 2020-2021 school year.
ETHS also saw a 104% increase in the number of suicide risk assessments between the fall 2019 quarter and the fall 2021 quarter, according to data presented to the board in March by the Associate Director of Human Services. students Taya Kinzie and principal Marcus Campbell.
Based on data collected by Student Services staff, 106 students were hospitalized for psychiatric issues in the 2020-21 year, up from 116 the previous year. But 26 students suffered multiple hospitalizations, compared to just 12 the previous year.
“You can’t have physical health without having mental health, and that’s something we need to drive home for everyone,” said State Senator Laura Fine, who represents Evanston and other northern suburbs of Chicago. “It’s okay to talk about your mental health issue, and it shouldn’t be any different from dealing with a physical health issue.”
Yet in Illinois, one of the most serious problems facing psychiatric care is the lack of beds in inpatient facilities where children can go to get the services and support they need, said the Dr John Walkup of Lurie Children’s Hospital during Thursday’s hearing.
The lack of beds to meet the demand for psychiatric care among Illinois youth has also forced local schools to send students out of state to receive the hospital treatment they need, Fine said. As a result, the most urgent action the state must take is to set up more staffed facilities with more beds to treat young people in mental health crisis.
“When we talk about beds, we’re talking about where a child can go in a crisis, when we’re worried they might harm themselves or someone else,” Fine told the Panel discussion during an interview after Thursday’s hearing. . “Where can they go to have their needs met? »
During this spring’s legislative session, the state passed several laws aimed at increasing investments in mental health supports and expanding its ability to treat those who need help. In March, Governor JB Pritzker announced the creation of the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative, led by University of Chicago child protection expert Dana Weiner.
Weiner spoke to state senators during Thursday’s committee hearing about the ongoing work on the initiative, and said one of his main goals is to increase collaboration between state departments. to help find placements for children to receive hospital services effectively and efficiently.
Weiner and his team are currently testing a new computer program to support these cooperative efforts so the state can find the right services for every child in crisis.
The committee also discussed the topic of mental health services for juveniles in state juvenile detention facilities. Historically, these centers have taken care of the basic physical needs of detained children, but they often lack the resources to provide mental health care to children who need it most.
“Some of these kids who are in detention are because they did something that can be attributed to their mental health issue,” Fine said. “And if they can get the right services that they need and the help that they need, that would put them on a completely different path.”
But one of the positive developments to come out of the pandemic is the expansion of telehealth services, according to Fine.
Since telehealth appointments became more common when the pandemic first hit in March 2020, many more people have sought psychiatric support because they feel more comfortable doing so at home. , where they may feel less stigmatized for making an appointment.
“From my perspective, I think people need to feel comfortable talking about mental health, and I think there needs to be somewhere someone can go, because when you’re in crisis, this crisis cannot wait,” Fine told the Roundtable. “We need to make sure that you also have accessible and quality health care for mental health. It would be a game changer for so many lives.