Depression and suicide rates highest amongst LGBTQ+ and children of color
Children in the United States are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis, according to a new 50-state report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. While the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book ranks Utah as fourth in the nation in child well-being and first in the family and community domain, the report also highlights how youth are struggling with anxiety and depression like never before.
The Data Book reports that nationwide, children were more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis than in previous years:
Nearly 12% (11.8%) of children ages 3 to 17 experienced anxiety and/or depression in 2020, compared to 9.4% in 2016. Currently, 7.3 million children in this age group reportedly experienced these mental health challenges in the first year of the COVID pandemic – an increase of 1.5 million children (26%) in just four years.
This mental health crisis has hit children of color, as well as children who identify as LGBTQ+, harder than their peers.
Among high school-aged children, 12% of Black students, 13% of students of two or more races, and 26% of American Indian or Native Alaskan students attempted suicide, compared with 9% of high school-aged kids overall. A staggering 23% of LGBTQ+ high school students report attempting suicide, compared to 6% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
“Utah’s policymakers have an opportunity to help these children by directing our state’s budgetary surpluses to provide the mental and behavioral health care that these kids need and deserve,” said Martín C. Muñoz, KIDS COUNT director with Voices for Utah Children. “Our kids have been struggling for far too long, and the trauma of the COVID pandemic has made things even worse.”
Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health and family and community factors — and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall. The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures and are the latest available.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for lawmakers to support programs and policies that ease mental health burdens on children and their families. This includes concerted efforts to:
Meet kids’ basic needs. Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers. Children need a solid foundation of nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods — and their families need financial stability — to foster positive mental health and wellness.
Ensure every child has access to the mental health care they need, when and where they need it. Schools should increase the presence of social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals on staff and strive to meet the 250-to-1 ratio of students to counselors recommended by the American School Counselor Association.
Bolster mental health care that takes into account young people’s experiences and identities. Such care should be trauma-informed, culturally relevant, informed by the latest evidence and research, and should be geared toward early intervention.