KSL.com - Gov. Spencer Cox, in partnership with the Children's Center Utah, has declared May 1 Children's Mental Health Awareness Day to bring awareness to the special attention needed for children's mental health across the state.
The governor issued a formal declaration Monday, marking the third year in which a special day has been dedicated to children's mental health. The month of May is often recognized nationally as Mental Health Awareness Month, but often children can be overlooked in discussions regarding the need.
"Mental health problems can affect anyone, including our children and youth," Cox said. "It's time to prioritize the importance of mental health and raise awareness about the challenges our children can face. Let's all make a commitment to support those struggling with mental, emotional or behavioral issues and create a more compassionate and resilient community."
Children's mental health has been a growing concern nationwide, with negative impacts being amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019 emergency department visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Concerned by the increasing reports and concerning CDC data, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory regarding the protection of youth mental health in 2021.
More recently, a coalition of 144 state and national organizations signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to declare a federal national emergency for childhood mental health.
The letter called for "a robust and comprehensive mental health workforce strategy." The coalition also noted that, despite the need for children mental health services growing, just 4% of the country's psychiatrists specialize in pediatric care.
The pandemic intensified a crisis that had already long existed for Utah, with the state ranking among a group with the highest prevalence of mental health disorders in children and adolescents. Currently, suicide stands as the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17.
"Utah is in a group of states that has some of the highest prevalence of emotional mental behavioral needs among its children, and also the highest rate of untreated, and some of that has to do with a shortage of providers. So if you look at the number of providers in our state by average, we have about a third fewer and so you already have a gap," explained Rebecca Dutson, the Children's Center Utah president and CEO.
Shortages in providers and difficulty in access are among barriers identified by a coalition of Utah leaders on mental health. A 2020 report released by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute on behalf of the coalition discussed pathways forward.
"We're so grateful that our government, our Legislature, our leaders, are recognizing that the more we can do upstream, the more we can reduce the impact downstream," said Dutson. "If you're concerned about your child's behavior, it's never too early to start asking questions because we can get help. That promotion, the prevention, that early intervention, that makes and can make a world of difference in that child's life."