May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental health is a cornerstone of child and family well-being. During early and adolescent development, the link between a child’s mental health and their school readiness, behavioral and social-emotional well-being, and long-term health and life outcomes is significant. Like many other determinants of health and well-being, mental health exists on a continuum – kids of all ages experience mental health challenges, ranging from normal stresses to serious and/or recurring instances of trauma. In this way, the mental health of our parents, families, educators, caregivers, and overall, our communities, is vital to the healthy, supportive development of our kids.
Colorado has made promising progress to better support behavioral and social-emotional well-being in recent years. However, the compounding stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic expose the critical importance of mental health support for our kids. This is especially important for kids that identify as LGBTQ+, and those in households most disproportionately impacted by the socioeconomic disparities the pandemic has exacerbated, including families of color and families facing barriers to economic security. To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, here are just a few data related to mental health in Colorado according to our 2021 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report:
- National data show a steep decline in critical services like childhood screening tests and outpatient mental health visits among children enrolled in Medicaid or CHP+ in Colorado. Both services saw a 44% decline between March and May of 2019, and during the same time period in 2020.
- Prior to the pandemic, 35% of Colorado high school students reported symptoms of clinical depression, and 18% reported seriously considering suicide. Although Colorado’s teen suicide rate did not show a significant spike in 2020, it remained extremely high in a historical context. In total, 101 Colorado kids and teens ages 10 to 19 lost their lives to suicide in 2020, up from 50 a decade prior.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, between late April 2020 and March 2021, between 27% and 47% of adults in households with children in Colorado reported feeling anxious for more than half of the days or nearly every day in the past week. In the same timeframe, between 14% and 25% of adults in households with children were experiencing recurrent depression. Although the survey did not collect data on children, child mental health is closely linked to that of the adults in their household, suggesting mental health struggles among kids and youth likely also mounted as the pandemic dragged on.
- According to the Health eMoms COVID-19 survey administered in early 2021, half of all parents who gave birth between March 2020 and Feb. 2021 reported that their mental health had worsened since the pandemic began. Nearly 40% reported they needed or wanted mental health care since having their baby. Of those, half had not been able to get it.
It will take time for our state to fully understand the health impacts of the pandemic, including the long-term mental health impacts for our children. In the meantime, we can still celebrate the recent policy successes that work to combat these challenges and improve social and emotional learning, supportive school environments, and more accessible and equitable behavioral and mental health services. This includes HB22-1243’s extension of funding for the I Matter program, which guarantees 6 free mental and behavioral health services to all Colorado youth. This program has served nearly 2,000 Colorado kids since it was implemented last summer.
During Colorado’s 2022 legislative session, the Children’s Campaign supported multiple efforts which invest in mental and behavioral health. Among our priorities, HB22-1376 invests in fostering more supportive, positive, and inclusive school climates; SB22-147 provides funding for schools to expand the behavioral health services they provide to students; HB22-1295 establishes a new Department of Early Childhood and Universal Preschool Program that prioritizes more effective and trauma-informed programming for children facing the greatest barriers to opportunity; and HB22-1289, through its expansion of more equitable and comprehensive health coverage options for all Coloradans, will improve both child and maternal mental health.
These are just a few pieces of legislation that will have a positive impact on child, family, and community mental health and well-being in the years to come. Despite this progress, we recognize that there is more to be done to best set our kids and families up to thrive.
Click here to access the National Alliance on Mental Health’s resources.