Sunday, June 26, 2022

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IA Mental Health Voices: The Kids Aren't All Right

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Thursday, May 19, 2022   

As the school year winds down, education leaders are shedding light on increased mental-health demands among students, including thoughts of suicide.

Various organizations in Iowa also are calling attention to the issue during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Lisa Cushatt, executive director of the trauma healing group Iowa ACES 360, said concerns were building prior to the pandemic, but adds the crisis has added layers of mental health issues for children and adolescents.

She said what's happening now shatters the myth that kids are born resilient, especially when adults in their lives feel extra stress simultaneously.

"We want to believe kids are born resilient," said Cushatt. "But we have such a responsibility as adults to help cultivate that and model that and it's really hard to do when we're in crisis ourselves."

According to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 44% of U.S. high school students recently reported persistently feeling sad or hopeless in the past year. And nearly 20% had seriously considered attempting suicide.

Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended screening for anxiety in youths between the ages of 8 and 18.

While school counselors are responding to more referrals, there are calls to enhance training for all staff to help these students. Those suggestions coincide with gaps in locating enough providers who can help a child away from campus.

Erin Drinnin, community impact officer for health of the United Way Central Iowa, said Iowa Children's Behavioral System is feeling the impact of the workforce shortage.

"How do we recruit enough mental-health professionals to go into school," said Drinnin, "to go into these professions to serve youth and adults?"

The Coalition to Advance Mental Health in Iowa for Kids recommends actions such as student loan forgiveness and maintaining telehealth flexibilities.

Julia Webb, program director for NAMI Iowa, said parents and educators can be proactive by intervening when warning signs pop up.

"If you're seeing a young person isolating themselves," said Webb "not taking joy in the things they've previously found happiness in, ending relationships with friends, not wanting to interact with friends."

For crisis situations, signs include expressing great shame and plans that point to ending their life.



Disclosure: NAMI Iowa contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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