Children’s wellness report reveals ‘mental health pandemic’

Annie E. Casey Foundation study released Monday showed a significant increase in anxiety and depression among children across the country during the pandemic, and even more among children in Oregon.

The foundation is a national charity that publishes new information about children’s well-being through an annual report called the Kids Count Data Book. The latest edition, released Monday, outlines and ranks children’s well-being based on 16 factors by state.

The report uses data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau.

According to the report, the number of children with anxiety and depression nationwide increased 26% between 2016 and 2020, with 1.5 million more children with anxiety and depression in 2020 than in 2016.

In Oregon, the increase is even higher. In 2016, an estimated 11.5% of children suffered from anxiety or depression. This increased by 40% to 16.1% in 2020.

The US Office of the Surgeon General speaks of a “mental health pandemic”.

The Foundation’s report measures children’s well-being in four broad categories: economic well-being, health, education, and family and community.

Last summer kids played in the fountain at Portland Harbor. According to a new report, the number of Oregon children suffering from anxiety and depression increased 40% from 2016 to 2020.

Hanin Najjar

Overall, Oregon ranks 26th in children’s wellness, with neighboring states Washington and Idaho 15th and 18th.

Oregon ranks 30th for economic well-being, 41st for education, 12th for health, and 18th for family and community.

According to Jenifer Wagley, executive director of Our Children Oregon, a child protection organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on children’s mental health.

Our Kids Oregon released county-specific data Monday that paints a more detailed picture of Oregon’s children’s well-being.

In addition to the four categories covered by the Kids Count report, the Our Children Oregon data introduces a fifth data domain on the impact of climate change on children’s well-being.

It looks at climate-related data such as wildfire risk, drought intensity and extreme heat days.

The data also digs into factors related to the juvenile court system, children in foster care and access to childcare.

Our Children Oregon data shows where children in the state are not receiving the support they need, particularly in rural areas like Wheeler County. There, over a quarter of children lived in poverty and less than half of high schoolers graduated on time in 2019-2020.

The reports from Our Children Oregon and the Casey Foundation show differences between children in marginalized groups.

Statewide data shows that Black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander children consistently fall below the state average for wellness metrics, and they are disproportionately represented in data on abuse victims, foster care, and juvenile justice referrals.

Sixth graders from Oregon with gender-segregated or multiple gender identities also reported feeling less secure or belonging to the school.

Nationally, people ages 3 to 17 who identify as Native American, Alaskan Native, white, or of two or more races ranked above the national average for anxiety and depression.

The percentage of people aged 13 to 24 who attempted suicide also differed nationally based on race and sexual orientation.

On average, 9% of high school students attempted suicide in 2019, but 25% of all Native American and Alaskan Indigenous teens attempted suicide. The percentage was also higher for gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers at 23% than for all straight students at 6%.

The pandemic disrupted much of the data collection for these studies.

At the state level, data is missing for five factors because that data would come from the Student Health Survey, which does not include pre-2020 results.

The Casey Foundation and Our Children Oregon used various metrics to assess children’s mental health status. The Casey Foundation measured wellbeing by children’s diagnoses of anxiety and depression, and Our Children Oregon measured it by children’s access to mental health care.

While this data is helpful, it doesn’t capture the full scope of the mental health issues faced by young people, Wagley said.

Even so, Wagley said, the data can inform future policies for Oregon’s children, particularly around literacy rates, mental health care and economic well-being.

To address mental health, the Casey Foundation recommends improvements in three areas: prioritizing children’s basic needs; providing improved access to mental health care where and when it is needed; and strengthening mental health care for children, taking into account their cultural identities and experiences.

To reduce child poverty, Wagley hopes to keep the child tax credit that the American Rescue Plan expanded in 2021.

Our Children Oregon data also provides information on who needs the most support to increase literacy and literacy rates across location, race, and ethnicity.

Wagley said this data helps target resources to the people who need them most.

“When we act together, all children can thrive, but in doing so we must address the inherent racial and geographic differences to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and live their best life.”

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