According to a recent study, more than 40% of local high school and college students report feeling depressed almost every day.
More than 10% say they have attempted suicide at least once, according to the study released Tuesday by the Lehigh Valley Justice Initiative.
The local numbers coincide with an escalation in the nationwide youth mental health crisis so severe that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Children’s Hospitals are calling it a ‘state of mental health emergency’. , according to the Lehigh Valley Justice Initiative’s Mental Health Needs Assessment.
“We really have a crisis on our hands,” said Lehigh Valley Justice Institute executive director Joe Welsh.
The Justice Institute collected statistics from 2021 for high school and college students in the Easton area, Bethlehem area, Catasauqua area, and Whitehall-Coplay school districts. The institute also reviewed surveys completed by children in an unnamed Northampton County public school district and an unnamed charter school.
The institute hopes to find a solution to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” where middle and high school students are transferred to the juvenile justice system instead of having their mental health needs proactively addressed, according to Welsh.
While children in local school districts report mental health issues at consistently higher rates than the state average, their access to help varies.
About 27% of Liberty High School students received help through the state’s Student Aid Program, a school-level team process used to help students with academic challenges. or mental health. However, the percentages referred to the program are much lower in most other school districts.
The study suggests that not all children who need help are targeted or encouraged to get help. Liberty High School started a “wellness center” about six years ago to help children who reported mild to moderate mental health issues.
Children at Liberty can enjoy a “Peace Room,” where they can relax and participate in occupational therapy offered by graduate students from Moravian University. They can meditate in the wellness center, meet with one of four therapists, or get advice from a social worker on a number of community programs.
Liberty principal Harrison Bailey hopes that “his school’s successes and challenges in implementing this approach can serve as a model across the state,” the study says.
Bailey said people who don’t have mental health issues or aren’t connected to someone who needs help don’t realize how stretched mental health providers are. Children in crisis who need help now cannot get appointments with therapists for three to six months, he said.
“We’re in an incredible crisis that nobody wants to talk about,” Bailey said. “If we don’t do something quickly, it becomes beyond anyone’s reach to reduce it.”
Welsh’s study offers 27 pages of data and statistics, but acknowledges that they are not exhaustive and encourages more study and discussion to help address the dire mental health needs of children.
According to the study, children with mental health issues are likely to turn to alcohol or vaping to cope, are likely to suffer academically, and are more likely to be bullied.
“We need to hear the voices of our children,” the study says. “We need to listen to them and show them that we believe their experiences matter. We must provide them with the support they need not only to thrive, but also to survive.
The study was authored by data scientist Victoria Wrigley and intern Batool Salloum under Welsh’s guidance.
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Rudy Miller can be reached at email@example.com.
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