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La Crosse, WI
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July 22, 2024 4:20 pm

Local News

Addressing Mental Health in Children One Step at a Time


Parker Wallis 

Mental illness in children is on the rise as experts say that isolation, disconnection from school and friends, household financial stresses, illness in the family, and the death of loved ones have made children’s mental health concerns worse, especially during the pandemic. 

Data from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) illustrates that mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 24 percent for children ages 5-11 and 31 percent for ages 12-17 from March to October 2020. 

The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago helped survey parents in 2020, and 71 percent of those parents said the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health. Sixty-nine percent said the pandemic was the worst thing to happen to their child.

Even before the pandemic, Wisconsin has had an issue with the mental health of its youngest generation. Approximately 60 percent of high schoolers in the state were experiencing anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation before the first case was even recorded.

LGBTQ+ youth, who are twice as likely to experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, are especially at risk.

Now, health professionals are hard at work raising awareness for existing mental health services as well as creating new resources that will help Wisconsin residents of all ages, like the new three-digit Suicide and Crisis Hotline – 988.

The national hotline, whose new number will be 988 starting July 16th, will continue to assist people by putting callers in contact with a counselor trained to respond to substance abuse, suicidal, and/or mental health crises, focusing on de-escalation and providing coping skills. 

“We know that three digits is just going to allow people to access behavioral health so much quicker and it’ll be a more simple process,” said Caroline Crehan Neumann, the crisis services coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. While not a new service, Crehan Neumann asserts that the change is “making the service that is already available significantly more accessible, more easy to remember, more open and equitable for people all over the place.” 

Wisconsin’s call center, operated by Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin and averaging about 28,500 calls every year, will also be receiving federal funding to increase staffing at the lifeline center until call capacity needs are met.

The many rounds of coronavirus relief funding from the federal government have given numerous grant-funded school and community-based mental health services a much needed boost, but those funds are only expected to last until 2025. 

“These programs are very helpful, and make a difference, but we need them to be funded in an ongoing way,” stressed Linda Hall, director of the state Office of Children’s Mental Health.

Among Hall’s countless pieces of professional advice to parents about their children’s mental health, she suggests adults create a space to listen to their child every day. “Create a space, even if it’s a few minutes, with no agenda, no judgment, just be open to listen,” Hall says. “They may not say much at the beginning, but soon, they will start opening up to you.”