Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Report: Virginia, US Children Need Better Health Supports

Virginia ranked 48th in the 2023 State of Mental Health report undertaken by Mental Health America. This indicates higher rates of mental illness among the state’s youth and little access to care. (Adobe Stock)

BALTIMORE — A new annual report found children in Virginia and across the U.S. need better health support.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book showed the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000 increased between 2019 and 2021 in Virginia, as did the number of children and teens ages 10 to 17 who are overweight or obese.

Conversely, the number of children without health insurance and the number of babies born at a low birth weight declined.

Emily Griffey, chief policy officer for the nonprofit Voices for Virginia’s Children, said outside of physical health support, child advocates are calling for increased mental health support.

“Adults and leaders in our system; they’ll need to put the pieces together,” Griffey urged. “So that there are enough mental health providers to meet the need, there’s enough Medicaid funding so that families can afford access to these services, and that there’s the right amount of community networks and supports.”

She added doing this will better help families navigate the often complicated system of addressing children’s mental health. Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed several laws as part of his Right Help, Right Now plan to boost kids’ mental health. Some of these include filling vacant school psychologist positions and reporting kids’ mental health data to local community service boards or behavioral health authorities.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, wants to see healthcare access improve across the U.S. Nationally, the number of children and teen deaths increased, which she attributes to rising rates of suicide among young people. She said more attention must be paid to the decline in kids’ mental health.

“It’s important that we make sure that children and young people have the mental-health supports that they need,” Boissiere advised. “So that they continue to flourish, and so that they can become healthy and productive members of our society.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found the number of high schoolers experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased 14% between 2011 and 2021.

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