Youth mental health care: California investments may still not be enough

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

In August, The Children’s Partnership hosted a mental health panel focused on the voices of young girls and women of color. The session was organized as part of the organisation’s Youth of Color initiative.

“I had never been surrounded by a group of people with the same mental health experiences and struggles, about being a person of color,” Samantha Giles said.

Giles, a California teenager, is one of the Children’s Partnership youth panelists.

“I even got to go to a quiet room where we talked about how our parents don’t necessarily recognize our mental health issues and I’ve never really spoken with anyone else my age about my personal experience and their personal experience,” the teenager hinted.

Giles described the interactions she had with her peers as “eye-opening”.

That same month, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced his “Blueprint for Children’s Mental Health,” an initiative that injects $4.7 billion into the supersystem providing mental health services to young people in the state.

Watch the video: African-American teens in California speak out

Some advocates and public health officials say the governor’s announcement is an appropriate policy response to what experts are calling a mental health crisis in the state. They see it as a positive step the state is taking to address the under-addressed and often overlooked challenges that young people like Giles are trying to overcome.

According to the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), one in 14 children has experienced a mental or emotional disturbance that interferes with their daily life.

Among California teenagers who experienced major depressive episodes, 63.6% did not receive treatment for these incidents.

Newsom touts California’s response to the national mental health crisis above that of other states.

“As other states pull resources to support children’s mental health, California is stepping up with the most significant overhaul of our mental health system in state history,” Newsom said. “We are investing billions of dollars to ensure that every child in California has better access to comprehensive mental health and addiction services.”

Some notable organizations have praised the state’s commitment to child and young adult mental health.

“The state has made incredible and historic investments in the mental health and well-being of children and youth – both with the $4 billion Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative and with the $3 billion Community Schools Initiative,” said Angela M. Vázquez, director of policy at The Partnership for Children.

However, Vázquez expressed concern that many of these funds were one-time investments that may not fully meet the needs of children of color.

Vázquez’s concerns, which mirror those of several mental health advocates in communities of color, extend to Newsom’s commitment to add 40,000 more mental health workers in California.

“Yet the reality is that the clinical workforce is, and likely will remain for some time, largely white and middle class — not at all reflective of the diversity of children in our state,” Vázquez said.

The Children’s Partnership is currently working on a solution to the existing inequality which the organization says involves peer-to-peer interactions.

“Youth of color from the Children’s Partnership’s own youth policy council, the Hope, Healing, and Health Collective shared that greater investments in peer-to-peer programs would improve opportunities for youth of color to connect and heal with members of their own communities. and identities,” Vázquez said. “Peer support is an essential evidence-based strategy for youth mental health that has the potential to develop interest and foundational professional skills that lead to future opportunities for career paths in mental health for more people. ‘students of color.’

Other factors like the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to the state’s youth mental health crisis, experts say.

According to a study published by the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, the mental health status of black people has deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with anxiety and depression being the main problems.

“These recent events have added additional psychological and emotional stress to children and youth of color, especially black youth,” Vázquez said. “In considering what serves young people well, it is imperative that we remove the systemic barriers that have contributed to historical disparities in youth mental health and develop innovative strategies, leaving space for healing outside and in tandem with the mainstream mental health system. ”

The CHCF found that black people had the hardest time of all other ethnic groups finding a doctor, especially a specialist.

In 2019, black children in California were the most likely to experience severe emotional distress among children of all other racial groups, at a rate of nearly 8%.

From 2017 to 2019, about 30% of black 7th graders reportedly experienced feelings of depression or depressive episodes.

These trends are not only documented in black children today. According to the CHCF, African-American adults have had more negative childhood experiences that negatively impact their mental health than any other self-reported ethnic group.

In August, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2508, authored by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton). The new state law, according to Newsom’s office, reimagines mental health services for young people by strengthening systems of care in schools and focusing on intervention and prevention rather than crisis care. .

The governor says the legislation will “better define the role of school counselors.”

But Vázquez also has reservations about this bill. She feels that this does not fully address the mental health needs of all children in the state.

“One thing AB 2508 doesn’t address is the urgent need to invest more in the mental health of California’s youngest learners — children ages 0-5,” Vázquez said. “The state needs to invest far more resources in community mental health services for infants and young children, such as early childhood mental health consultations – an evidence-based model that reduces the number of suspensions and of pre-school expulsions, a problem that has significant disproportionate consequences. impacts on young black children.

California Black Media’s coverage of mental health in California is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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