As pandemic progresses, Austin mental health community says young people need more services

Much work needs to be done to meet the needs of young people facing mental health challenges during the pandemic, say members of the Austin mental health community. There are also not enough mental health professionals to meet these needs.

During an online event Wednesday, Kimberly Wilson, who oversees licensed mental health professionals for Austin ISD, said the children’s socio-emotional development had suffered.

“You have to remember that students have been removed from face-to-face academic learning for over a year and a half,” she said. “So what we saw was not just bad peer relations, but also loss of emotional development. “

Experts are particularly concerned about the increase in suicides and suicide attempts among young people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts increased 31% among those aged 12 to 17 in 2020 compared to the previous year. Between February and March 2021, the agency found that “emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempt were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12 to 17 than during the same period in 2019.”

Greg Hansch, executive director of NAMI Texas, said mental health issues are common among adolescents. He said they are treatable as well and should be treated as soon as possible.

“The earlier the identification and intervention,” he said, “the more likely we are to reduce the impact of a mental health problem.”

Hansch said he was concerned that many young people would not have access to health services. He said half of American children with a mental health problem do not receive mental health care, and black and Latino children are even less likely to have access to treatment.

And while many groups in Austin are expanding services and resources for schools and families, workforce issues remain a barrier.

Luanne Southern, executive director of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, said the shortage of health professionals is a nationwide problem.

“Workforce is a huge issue – not just recruiting new people to work in the field, but also retaining people,” she said.

Alison Mohr Boleware, director of government relations for the Texas branch of the National Association of Social Workers, said there were only about 1,500 social workers employed in schools across the state.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough school social workers for every school,” she said.

Mohr Boleware said his organization pushed the state legislature to include a definition of school social work services in the state education code. She said once this definition is implemented, it should be easier to hire social workers.

Democratic state representative Donna Howard of Austin said lawmakers had paid attention to the mental health crisis in Texas, but their response was mixed.

She said more resources had been allocated to mental health over the past year, but the legislature has also passed laws that are detrimental to young people from the LGBTQ community or belonging to racial minorities, which may profoundly affect their youth. Mental Health.

“I’m proud of what we did, but I’m also not so proud of some of the things we did that contributed to the problem,” Howard said. “And this generation of young people is navigating the political divide we all find ourselves in. “