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Report finds 13% of Utah children face anxiety and depression

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Many children are experiencing increased depression and anxiety.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book report highlights mental health issues for children 3 to 17 years old in Utah and across the country.

The Kids Count Data Book just released findings showing that 13% of Utah children suffer from anxiety and depression. The 2020 report also reveals a 26% increase nationally in mental illness in children. Many child advocates blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the increases.

Kids Count Director Martin Munoz said that while Utah is better-positioned than many states, the findings are still concerning.

"It's a crisis careening to a pandemic for our youth," Munoz said. "It's concerning, and we definitely need to do some work and help get the message out and remove the stigma for mental health."

Utah is ranked first in the family and community category, which is one metric for measuring overall child wellness.

Voices for Utah Children is an organization that advocates for pro-child policies in Utah. Executive Director Moe Hickey said increasing depression and anxiety is worrisome on multiple fronts.
   
"I think there's a number of factors, and one thing that concerns me about the Utah numbers,” Hickey said, “we rely on doctors and family physicians for some of the data, especially with the younger children, and it's probably been slightly under-reported, and they're trying to do an average based on statistics."

Hickey said the shortage of healthcare providers in Utah is another factor affecting accurate assessment – and the ability of families to get help when they need it. In addition, he said cultural factors may make it hard for some families to seek help.
   
"But Utah's a place that historically mental health has been a taboo subject and so getting people to step forward, getting people to acknowledge some of these challenges," Hickey said. "Even in a place like Park City, if you can get into see a provider, a professional provider, you could be waiting up to six months. And so, especially for children, the reporting is as accurate as we can get it, but it's a concern that it's being underreported."

Hickey said his organization urges the Utah Education Telehealth Network to increase telehealth services, but a lack of providers will take years to address.

LGBTQ children and those in communities of color experience a larger incidence of mental illness than others their ages.

"Part of it was not being able to be with their cohorts," said Hickey. "But there's also a factor that we don't talk about enough, which is during COVID, there were a lot of situations where there was already a bad family dynamic prior to COVID. And then to have people isolated in those environments, we have not captured those numbers yet as a society, what the outcomes of that will be."

The Casey Foundation report showed the number of uninsured children in Utah has declined due to the federal Medicaid expansion. Hickey said healthcare access helps address prenatal mental health screening and postpartum depression.

 "A lot of the issues, as we know from all the research that, children exhibit later on, as early as three," Hickey said. "But as they get older, a lot of it is from traumas they've experienced as a child, and some of that trauma can be the health of their parents that directly affects them as they get older."

/Find a link to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report here.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.