The first year of the COVID pandemic saw a 25% increase in anxiety and depression cases globally, according to the World Health Organization. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

“I think a lot has happened to them socially and socioeconomically with the pandemic we’ve lived through,” said Lauren Bialon, who lives in Elk River and has three children. “We went through a pandemic, kids locked up for nine months, school suddenly stopped. They couldn’t see anyone.”

At the same time, children have more access to social media than ever before. Bialon feels the pressure also contributes to the ongoing mental health crisis among young people.

She advocates for improved access to mental health support and treatment. Her 14-year-old daughter had a mental health crisis last year.

“Growing up, I struggled with my own mental health and was diagnosed with depression, ADD,” she said. None of your own life experiences can prepare you when your child is in danger.

She explained that she realized her daughter was self-harming and immediately sought help. However, she was still attending middle school and her other students were also struggling.

“She met a group of girls from school who were unfortunately in the same mental state she was at the time,” Bialon said. “They were planning to end their lives together.”

When they learned of their plans, they were able to intervene and get additional help for their daughter, including inpatient care. is starting

But Bialon feels her daughter’s school district did not initially take her daughters’ intentions seriously.

“Had we had a mental health professional taking over this from our guidance counselor, I think things might have been different. Red flags would have been caught,” she said. Looking back at the case, it all stemmed from school, where this group of girls were together and communicating their plans for school facilities and school equipment.”

On Wednesday night, she joined Hennepin County Commissioner Kevin Anderson for a panel discussion on how to improve mental health support for students.

“I have four children, two of whom are in middle school. I know the stress they are going through, and I see it in my own family,” said Commissioner Anderson. I was. “I know families all over Hennepan are going through the same thing.”

“My goal is to make sure people get help when and where they need it.”

In September 2021, Hennepin County set aside $20 million to invest in mental health services. About $2.2 million went specifically to expand school-based mental health services.

“One of our goals was to have a school-based mental health mental provider in every public school in Hennepin County,” said Commissioner Anderson.

Additional funding has allowed the county to expand its mental health school-based program to 24 additional schools, according to Hennepin County. It is now in all 231 public schools in the county and 100% of school districts. This expansion will support an additional 1,000 students each year.

According to the county, the funding will allow eight mental health providers to partner with schools to incorporate full-time mental health professionals who can provide clinical treatment services directly to students and families at each school.

“At this point, we have the ability to put resources into all Hennepin County public schools. Staffing is certainly an issue,” Commissioner Anderson acknowledged. “I think there’s still a lot of work to be done, and the need is so great that I don’t think I can take a break until I can actually make a difference and see a change.

Cory McIntyre, superintendent of schools in the Osseo region, has seen firsthand how the pandemic has increased stress among students.

“I think every district has it now,” he said. “We have seen increased levels of anxiety, behavioral regulation, and depression. Avoidance can show up in attendance.”

According to Hennepin County, youth with mental illness are twice as likely to drop out of school.

McIntyre explained that she relies on school psychologists, nurses and counselors to help with her needs.

“Demand is outstripping supply, so to speak, when it comes to having enough people to provide these services,” he said. “About a third of our schools are understaffed. We’ve identified and funded positions, but we don’t have the people to fill them.”

Ten sites in the district currently do not have designated therapists, McIntyre said.

“It’s very difficult to find treatment staff right now. There’s just a shortage,” he said. “There is a shortage of human resources.”

McIntyre joined Commissioner Anderson and Bialon on Wednesday’s panel to discuss ways to improve mental health support for students.

“How can we solve this together instead of doing it alone?” McIntyre said.

As she champions other families, Bialon also shares a message of hope and a story of her daughter’s resilience and strength.

“She’s a good girl, really a good girl,” Bialon said. “Everyone has struggles. One thing we say to her teen who is struggling to parent is that there is no such thing as a broken child. Just a broken system.” , we need to figure out which system is broken and fix it.”

If you are stuck and need help, call or text 988 to a Crisis Counselor.

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