Children are going to school hungry and leaving homes where their parents are finding it increasingly difficult to pay rent, buy food, and even ride the bus. Work has become a sore topic in families as the frustration of joblessness and the stranglehold of recession cast an inordinate sense of gloom over many in the nation.
How could kids not be affected by this and other factors, such as the disruption in schooling caused by the pandemic? The crisis was coming, but policymakers never saw it.
“More than 9 million children faced hunger in 2021. That’s 1 in 8 kids at risk for hunger.” In a country that is supposed to be the richest in the world, we have hungry children who may get one meal a day at school, and politicians want to end these programs.
A hungry child is not only unconscionable, but it is also damaging to that child’s health and future, as well as the health of this nation and the world. Children who don’t get enough food grow up with a wide range of physical and mental problems. One of the damaging effects is on their intellectual ability to function fully in school and in our world after school. The brain, lacking adequate protein in particular, does not develop normally; intellectual deficits are the result. Want low IQ kids? Don’t feed them.
What we are seeing now isn’t limited to hunger but a much wider set of factors that are, increasingly, leading to suicidality in kids and teens. Policies failed the children here and abroad, and things are getting worse. Parents are reaching out to a system that is ill-equipped to help them.
Many children do not receive mental health care, although they have a significant need for it. Access to care is one cause of this. One in three youth do not receive the care, even in states where access to juvenile mental health services is the greatest.
The percentage of young adults (18 to 25) who reported having an unmet need for mental health treatment increased from 5.1% in 2015 to 12.7% in 2018.
Our children may not get mental health treatment because there is a stigma around mental illness, they don’t know about the resources that are out there, and there aren’t enough mental health specialists. There can be differences in access to care depending on race, ethnicity, wealth, and region. It’s critical to remove these obstacles so that kids who require mental health care can get it.
Children and teens with major emotional disturbances and their families are the focus of programs like the Children’s Mental Health Initiative, which aims to improve mental health outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, as has the Children’s Hospital Association, highlighting the demand for more resources and attention for this problem.
But attention without funding and programs doesn’t provide immediate relief for these kids. What do we do in the interim? How do we repair the tattered web of mental health services that exist now and ensure it is sturdy enough for future needs?