As lawmakers prepare for a new year and grapple with budget decisions that use up their surplus or address deficits, there are important opportunities for states to make big efforts on youth mental health. The time is now.
Across the country, young people are actively seeking help through Mental Health America’s screening program, which registers more than 10,000 visitors per day; More than a third of examiners are under 18 years of age. Youth commonly express how trauma, relationship issues, and isolation are the top three factors contributing to their mental health issues at the time of assessment, and data show LGBTQ+ and Black, Indigenous, and people of color youth (BIPOC) as those who would benefit most from swift action. Research by Common Sense Media indicates that teens want help managing their Internet and smartphone use, but feel powerless to make changes on their own (notably, more than two dozen states are suing Meta for its harmful practices).
The National Governors Association Youth Mental Health Playbook, published earlier this year, is a tool that states can draw on to create policies and initiatives and offers examples of both administrative and legislative actions already taken by states. It builds on a year of work by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in his role as president of the National Governors Association (NGA) and NGA staff in collaboration with national mental health advocacy organizations, including Mental Health America, and youth advocates. . The manual uses four pillars to show how systems can be reconceptualized to address the critical needs of children and adolescents today and how to build capacity to reduce the needs of tomorrow.
As communities face decisions about whether to end programs and policies that were funded with one-time COVID-19 supplemental funds, it is important not to go back to “business as usual” with mental health on the back burner. Before the pandemic, families seeking mental health care for children couldn’t find it 69% of the time, according to one study. NORC survey of almost 3,000 people in 2019-2020. In comparison, 17% of people looking for children’s physical health care could not find it. State leaders must ensure their budgets and policies reflect the will of the many voices of young people seeking mental help for themselves and their peers.
Pillar 1: Address prevention and build resilience
A key opportunity in Pillar 1 Massachusetts (page 14) is highlighted for developing healthier school climates. To address the root causes of student behaviors, rather than responding with strictly punitive measures, Massachusetts requires schools to first use alternative forms of discipline, including mental health intervention. Although Black children make up 15% of the K-12 school population, they account for more than 40% of referrals to authorities.
Pillar 1 It also highlights data collection and analysis as crucial steps in the process. It is essential that such data and analysis come from a representative sample of the affected population: students. States should rethink how schools consider student experiences and reevaluate student engagement and accessibility frameworks when implementing mental health initiatives. The foundation of a strong youth mental health system involves listening carefully to the concerns and struggles of young people and equitably using this data to take actionable steps to foster a healthier school climate. By doing this, schools will provide their students with a transformative experience that goes beyond academic metrics and is also concerned with guiding students to become emotionally competent people.
Pillar 1 illustrates the importance of building resilience, including teaching life skills in schools and community programs. Building resilience on school campuses should be a top priority for school officials, as research has shown the benefits of such practices. TO Yale Study 2020 found that “to improve students’ mental health, schools should teach them how to breathe.” A specific resilience program, SKY Campus Happiness, which is based on a breathing technique, yoga poses, social connection and service activities, was most beneficial for students’ mental health, with students reporting improvements in six areas of well-being: depression, stress. , mental health, mindfulness, positive affect and social connection. A recent law in Florida and a new policy in NY Highlight the growing recognition of the power of resilience and its integration in education. By incorporating meditation and breathing practices into daily routines, states will not only address youth mental health issues but also Cultivate a new generation of emotionally competent leaders. who have high achievements.
Pillar 2: Raise awareness and reduce stigma
Pillar 2 notes that all activities must be conceptualized, implemented and implemented with young people. By making space for young people at the decision-making table, we make them key players in ensuring systems are easy to use and continually improve through the use of feedback. Many private companies highly value user feedback, but public systems take longer to adapt and transform based on real-time input from those receiving their services. New Mexico (page 23) created the Indian Youth Council, which provides youth-specific recommendations to the state Department of Indian Affairs for mental and behavioral health needs in tribal communities. Several other states, including Vermont, Maryland, and Arizona, also allow youth councils to directly inform state policy.
Pillar 3: Ensure access and affordability to quality treatments and care
An exciting opportunity in Pillar 3 is funding peer-to-peer support models. Peer support services are known to reduce isolation and help build support systems, increase self-help skills and participation in services, and empower young people to lead self-directed lives. Additionally, peer support can prevent behavioral crises by helping people better manage their physical and mental health conditions. Although formal peer support is evidence-based, it is also commonly practiced among friends, colleagues, and trusted peers and has a long history outside of evidence-based practice. Informal peer support has been commonly used among young people due to the mutualistic spirit, its accessibility and the ingrained trust between peers. There are many Peer support models for young people.including peer counseling programs and programs using formally certified peer specialists.
In Wisconsin (page 30), more than 300 schools offer student-led peer support wellness programs. Currently, 18 states bill Medicaid for youth peer support, which can be offered as part of mobile crisis programs, in schools, or as part of other community services, but no schools use Medicaid as a funding source. Young people are very interested in learning skills to support their own well-being and the well-being of their friends and peers. In a survey of nearly 2,000 youth seeking help through MHA’s online screening program, 44% of young people between 14 and 18 years old stated that access to support from other young people It is one of the most important resources for your mental health. Peer support is intuitive because youth turn to each other long before they are ready to talk to an adult about what they are experiencing, and schools should bill Medicaid for it.
Pillar 4: Train and support caregivers and educators
A key opportunity in Pillar 4 emphasizes the importance of training and educating adults and caregivers who care for youth. The Behavioral Health Division of the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services (page 35) has made online role-playing simulation technology available to help school staff recognize signs of distress. The program models conversations to approach students to discuss their concerns and makes referrals to appropriate resources.
Although not specifically mentioned in the handbook, it is worth noting that there is often an additional layer of stigma for student-athletes experiencing mental health issues due to the culture and attitudes around seeking help. Student athletes advocate for changes to athletic programs where students spend a significant amount of their time. Therefore, sports trainers must be trained in mental health as they must be trained in CPR and heat illness prevention as both physical and mental health can be a life or death situation. This year, Ohio passed HB33, which required mental health training for all 80,000 high school coaches. In Maryland, youth-led Alston for Athletes advocates for HB375, which would require all coaches at public institutions to receive mental health training. However, the training should not be exclusive to coaches, and the long-term goal is to ensure that other school staff, including teachers, bus drivers, and all adults serving youth, also receive it.
We are excited about the opportunities this handbook offers states and appreciate the incredible work that went into putting together this comprehensive guide. MHA and its partners look forward to working with stakeholders to make the policies included in the handbook a reality, including the few highlighted here, because there is no health without mental health.
Advocates are calling on state officials to make sure youth mental health is a top topic in the upcoming session. Let your governor know he or she must prioritize youth mental health. Inseparables Action Alert will automate a letter based on your residence.
Caren Howard is senior director of policy and advocacy at Mental Health America. José Caballero is a national award-winning mental health activist, a member of the MHA Young Leaders Council, and a student at Columbia University. Marcus Alston is an award-winning mental health advocate, founder of Alston for Athletes, and MHA Young Leaders Council alumnus.