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Clark, Champaign face growing demand for youth mental health services

Springfield News-Sun - 6/16/2019

Jun. 16--Clark and Champaign county are struggling to keep up as the number of children and young adults coping with mental health issues continues to rise.

Alicia Robinson, a therapist with the Behavioral Health and Counseling Services Department of the Rocking Horse Community Health Center, said the number of referrals the department has received about children and young adults needing help with mental health issues has steadily increased over the last five years.

"Back in 2010, we had received 9,676 referrals for help. So far in 2019, and we are about halfway, we already have 9,339 referrals," Robinson said. "So that's almost double what we were seeing 10 years ago."

Mental health issues in children and young adults have risen significantly over the last decade, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of young adults and teens reporting, and seeking help for, negative psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Robinson said that in 2011, 2012 and 2013, referrals fell slightly before picking up. Since 2014, the number of referrals from primary care pediatricians and primary care doctors has continued to increase every year.

Shortage of help

Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison County, said she knows the demand for mental health services is high, but there is also a shortage of mental health professionals.

"We simply don't have enough psychiatrists or clinicians to keep up with the rising need for services," Mayer said.

Mayer said the agency has moved to using a cross-system approach by partnering with the juvenile courts, developmental disabilities, law enforcement and educational representatives to find cross-system solutions when appropriate.

Between 2010 and 2019, Clark and Champaign counties have seen 10 children and teens under the age of 18 die by suicide- six in Clark County and four in Champaign County- two of whom were just 11 years old, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

"We know from our funded partner agencies and from national and regional data that there is a high need for services in our area and around the country," Mayer said.

Last month, the Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties attempted to raise funds by proposing a two-year, 0.3-mill levy, but voters rejected it.

The levy was expected to generate $644,300 per year and was projected to cost the owner of a $100,000 residence $10.50 per year.

Funds from the levy would have been used to help expand the agency to include four additional mental health professionals for both counties in order to help address the shortage of professional care.

The new professionals would have been tasked with serving the nine public schools in Logan and Champaign counties.

Tammy Nicholl, executive director of the Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties, said she was shocked and sad to find out about the failure.

"The decline in students self esteem, purpose and positive view of the future, the suicide rates, youth crisis evaluations having doubled in the past few years, younger students needing psychiatric hospitalization- The data isn't from some big city far away, this is us," Nicholl said.

Nicholl said the board had seen youth crisis assessments double over the last three years, as well as receiving a greater number of students suggesting depressed or suicidal thoughts.

"We need more resources to effectively address the needs," Nicholl said.

The board is currently, "regrouping," and deciding what direction to take next in order to secure more funding, Nicholl said.

The last time the agency had a levy on the ballot before May was in November of 2016, and that 0.7-mil levy will be up for renewal in 2021.

Dayton Children's has seen a 200% increase over five years in the number of kids coming to the emergency room for mental health-related issues and a 300% percent increase in the number of children being admitted for mental health problems, according to Greg Ramey, pediatric psychologist and executive director for the Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources at Dayton Children's Hospital.

Ramey said incidents of anxiety and depression disorders among children and young adults have increased nationwide, and while studies and research are still in their early phases, researchers have begun to find correlations between increased anxiety and depression in teens and the rise of social media and smart phones.

"It is a major factor leading to mood disorders in teenagers," Ramey said.

According to a study from the University of Pittsburgh, teens who spent time scrolling through social media apps had a more negative body image. Teens who spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns, compared to their peers who spent less time on social media.

In another study from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, teens ages 13 through 18 showed increased activity in the reward center of the brain after receiving high numbers of 'likes' on a photo.

Clark County's Mayer said studies indicate that social media only exacerbates existing issues, it doesn't create them.

Less stigmatized

One of the reasons Robinson thinks the referrals to her department have picked up so much is because mental health issues are becoming less stigmatized.

"I think the sigma is really starting to go away so parents are less afraid about taking their child to see someone," Robinson said. "Teachers are less afraid to give a recommendation that a student should see someone."

In response to the jump in mental health issues, Springfield High School will welcome a, "Hope Squad," in the fall through the Grant Us Hope nonprofit, with the goal of providing suicide prevention programs and supplemental trauma recovery programs.

According to their website, Grant Us Hope is described as a Cincinnati-based nonprofit focused on creating communities of leadership and advocacy in support of developing and implementing teen suicide prevention, mental wellness, trauma support and school safety programs in Ohio.

Grant Us Hope encourages teens, parents, schools and communities to de-stigmatize mental health issues through open conversations about mental health.

By fall, Grant Us Hope will have enacted Hope Squads in 55 Ohio schools, mostly in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

Dr. Keith Kline, Executive Director of Grant Us Hope, said one of the reasons Hope Squads do so well is because students feel more comfortable discussing their mental health with other young people.

"We know students talk to each other about their mental health and thoughts of suicide, but many times, they do not share what they know with an adult who can help," Kline said. "Hope Squad Members are trained to recognize signs, ask questions and work with their classmates to get them the help they need."

Bouncing back

Lack of interest in social activities, loss of enthusiasm for things they used to enjoy, increased irritability or anger, changes in appetite or sleep habits, difficulty concentrating and excessive worrying are some signs that a child or young adult is struggling with depression or anxiety, Mayer said. Additional signs include a need for perfection, constant fears about safety, trouble relaxing, stomach or headaches, pounding heart rate, profuse sweating, she said.

"But treatment is highly effective," Mayer said.

Still some people show no signs at all, she said.

"It's normal for adults to have the occasional blues or worries, and the same goes for children," Mayer said. "But if your child's sadness or worries are persistent, long-lasting or interfere with their daily life, it may be time to consider whether they are experiencing depression or anxiety."

Children and young adults bounce back quickly, and early intervention allows children to get back on track and reduce the likelihood of long-term issues, she said.

Rocking Horse's Robinson said there could be any reason for the spike in mental health issues, it's hard to pin-point everything in relation to everyone's trauma.

"There are different kinds of trauma that could cause a child or a teenager to be depressed," Robinson said. "There are so many different explanations. You can't just point to one thing."

And Mayer agrees, she said overall a lot of times people want to point to one, singular reason why mental health issues occur.

"But that's just not realistic," Mayer said. "In reality, suicide and mental health issues are complex, and cannot be easily simplified or explained by a single cause."

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Staff Writer Katie Wedell contributed to this report.


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