‘Quite anxious and depressed.’ Experts tackle Connecticut’s teen mental health crisis
Students are back in school, but a record number of them are reporting mental health struggles. On Wednesday, dozens of experts brainstormed solutions at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
“We're seeing a lot of kids who are quite anxious and depressed,” said Dr. Alice Forrester, CEO of Clifford Beers Community Health.
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At a roundtable hosted by state Comptroller Sean Scanlon, mental health providers largely blamed technology and social media. But others said kids are still recovering from COVID restrictions.
“COVID absolutely shut some of these kids down,” said Melanie Wilde-Lane, with the Connecticut Association of School-Based Health Centers. “We were stuck in the house.”
More the 150 school-based health centers are filling a critical need. There, students can get everything from dental checkups to mental health screenings – all at school.
“Say, a student comes in for a physical and a parent or a physician's assistant finds that that student needs mental health services for one reason or another, they can make a referral right next door,” said Wilde-Lane.
But significant challenges remain. Very few school-based health centers exist in western Connecticut, or the rural “Quiet Corner” in the northeastern part of the state.
Plus, providers complained that it’s nearly impossible to hire social workers – thanks to low salaries, a lack of affordable housing and a cheaper cost of living in other states. They suggested that the state offer deeper incentives, like reimbursing student loans.
Tens of millions of dollars are headed to kids’ mental health, thanks to new state funding and one-time federal relief funds. Some of the money is funding four new mental health crisis centers, which serve as walk-in clinics for kids who need help immediately:
- The Village for Families and Children in Hartford
- Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven
- The Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut in New London
- Wellmore Behavioral Health in Waterbury
This year, Connecticut lawmakers also expanded anti-bullying measures.
The changes are a step in the right direction, but Scanlon said the system is too confusing for parents to navigate.
“If I have a problem with my smartphone, I can go to a Genius Bar at the Apple Store, and they can fix anything that I have going on with that technology,” he said. “Why are we not doing that?”
Scanlon’s Healthcare Cabinet will make formal suggestions to state lawmakers by early next year.