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KIDS COUNT: Kids nationwide struggling with anxiety, depression; Minnesota ranks high in child well-being

Post-Bulletin - 8/8/2022

Aug. 8—ROCHESTER. Minn. — The warning lights are flashing red when it comes to children's mental health, as children nationwide struggle with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels, according to the

"KIDS COUNT Data Book" released Monday


Relatively speaking, kids in Minnesota fared better than their counterparts, ranking third in child well-being, according to the Data Book. But they are still suffering from their own mental health challenges.

A growing share of ninth-graders in Minnesota reported a long-term mental health, behavioral or emotional problem, rising from 12.5% in 2013 to 23.1% in 2019.

The report shows a 26% increase nationally in anxiety and depression through the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the U.S. surgeon general to describe the challenges children are facing as a "mental health pandemic."

"The coronavirus pandemic has brought children trauma and tremendous loss over the past two and half years," the publication states in a summary page. "As of July 2022, the health crisis had killed more than 1 million people in America, including more than 1,600 children. During this same time span, more than 200,00 kids had lost a parent or primary caregiver to the virus."

The report uses national and state data across four domains — economic well-being, family and community, education and health — and ranks states in overall child well-being. The report includes pre-pandemic figures as well as more recent statistics.

The report describes the toll the pandemic and its associated stresses have taken on children. The share of children struggling to make it through the day rose nearly 26% in the first year of the pandemic — from 9.4% (5.8 million kids) in 2016 to 11.8% (7.3 million kids) in 2020.

Attempted suicides by high school students rose among nearly all racial, ethnic and gender categories. Across the U.S., 9% of all high schoolers attempted suicide in 2019.

The rate rises to 12% for Black students, 13% for students of two or more races and 26% for American Indian and Native Alaskan high schoolers. Among LGBTQ youth, the statistics show 23% of gay, lesbian and bisexual high schoolers reported an attempted suicide compared to just 6% of their heterosexual peers.

Minnesota trailed Massachusetts, which ranks first, and New Hampshire, which ranks second, in terms of child well-being. At the other end of the spectrum, New Mexico ranked worst in child well-being, followed by Louisiana (49th) and Mississippi (48th).

The Northeast and Midwest held the top ranks in terms of child-well-being. Nine of the top 10 states were from the two regions. States in Appalachia, as well as the Southeast and Southwest — where families have the lowest levels of household income — populate the bottom rungs in terms of child well-being.

The report was not without its bright spots. It showed that the share of families with incomes below the poverty line fell. Nationally, 17% of all children lived below the poverty line in 2016, down from 21% in 2008-12, meaning 2.6 million fewer children living in poverty.

Growing up in poverty poses one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to factors that can impair brain development and lead to poor academic, cognitive and healthy outcomes.

The publication offers several recommendations to reduce pandemic-related stress among children.

Prioritize meeting kids's basic needs. A solid foundation of nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods foster mental health and wellness, the report states.

Ensuring that every child has access to the mental health care they need — when and where they need it.

And bolstering evidence-based mental health care that considers young people's experience and identities. Early intervention is key, as it can be especially important in the absence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness.


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