Milwaukee officials: 'We're still in a youth mental health crisis'

Milwaukee officials: ’We’re still in a youth mental health crisis’

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- In Tuesday's State of the State address, Governor Tony Evers announced plans to invest in mental health, saying kids need more mental health support in schools. According to the Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health, one-third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day.

In Milwaukee County, officials say we were in the middle of a mental health crisis long before the pandemic.

"The pandemic certainly is a contributor, and the disruption from the pandemic is a contributor, but a lot of that has revealed problems and challenges that existed in people's lives beforehand," said Dr. Steve Dykstra PHD, clinical program director, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health.

The latest data shows an uptick in suicides for people of all ages. The populations of youth impacted are also changing. "It's starting to include populations like African Americans and other minority groups who used to be relatively less represented in that behavior," he said.

Dr. Dykstra says kids struggle with a lot of the same issues that adults do, but navigating these issues can be difficult because their minds are still developing. "They're struggling with getting their needs met, with believing in their own future, with maintaining hope in the face of adversity," said Dykstra.

On the state level, officials continue working to provide resources within the school system, but right now there are some challenges in doing so. A staffing shortage is posing a major impact.

"We don't have enough school-based counselors, social workers, psychologists, and we don’t have enough community-based providers," said Beth Herman, assistant director of student services, prevention & wellness for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Herman says even in areas full of resources, there might be longer waiting lists for treatment of youth and adolescents.

Herman says right now, DPI continues working with schools to create and maintain universal mental health services to assist kids before they might need treatment. Both Herman and Dr. Dykstra agree there's still much work to be done.

During his State of the State address, Gov. Evers announced the "Get Kids Ahead" initiative. Under this plan, $15 million would go towards supporting school-based mental health services for students in grades K-12 across the state of Wisconsin.

“This pandemic has affected our kids in more ways than one, including their mental health. A kid who’s in crisis isn’t going to be able to pay attention at school, finish their homework, or engage with their friends or teachers,” said Gov. Evers.

Older students are also being considered. Evers says $5 million will go to the UW System for increased access to mental health support.

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are resources available. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

There is also help available locally. You can contact the crisis line at the Milwaukee County Health and Human Services at (414) 257-7222.
The department can send a mobile team to you, or you can visit a crisis help location.

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