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CT high schoolers reported being more depressed, hopeless than years past: Study

The Connecticut School Health Survey is conducted every two years by the Department of Public Health.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A new study focusing on the health of high schoolers in Connecticut is painting a better picture of the mental health crisis in our state. The results show more kids are feeling sad or hopeless, depressed, and anxious.

The state-wide study, conducted every two years by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, is called, the "Connecticut School Health Survey." 

The study, among other things, found the following:

  • 36% of high schoolers are feeling sad or hopeless (up from 31% in 2019) 
  • 29% say their mental health was most of the time or always, "not good."
  • 18% of respondents hurt themselves on purpose
  • 14% have seriously considered suicide

"It completely correlates with what I've been seeing," said Dr. Laine Taylor, Medical Director of The Village for Families & Children.

The Village for Families & Children is a non-profit mental health agency with many levels of care.

"From birth to death, we support families and kids," said Dr. Taylor. 

Dr. Taylor said the number of people seeking help at the nonprofit has increased since the pandemic. 

"Kids were really isolated during school so all the places that were your typical touch points, school, pediatric offices, extracurricular activities, all of those were shut down or turned virtual," Dr. Taylor said. "Developmentally, that's what teens are supposed to be doing is establishing friendships, figuring out, how do I fit in a relationship, all of that stuff was all cut by the pandemic. Everything was so remote and these kids, were by themselves."

Connecticut Children's Medical Center also dealt with the same setbacks for kids during the pandemic. 

"The results aren't surprising considering where we were in terms of COVID, the COVID lockdowns and restrictions," said Dr. Melissa Santos, Division Head of Pediatric Psychology at Connecticut Children's. 

At the height of the pandemic, the emergency room at Connecticut Children's was filled with kids seeking mental health help. Dr. Santos said the numbers have gone down, but they the need is still there.

"This isn't over for our kids. Our kids are still suffering and in need of a lot of support," Dr. Santos said. "We're fortunate that the rates have gone down a little bit since the height of the pandemic, but we definitely still know that we have a lot of kids coming into our hospital, trying to access care. And that we have a lot more work to do to get this continuum of care up for our kids."

Last year, the state invested millions of dollars in resources to bolster mental health support throughout Connecticut schools and nonprofit providers. Because of that funding, a handful of urgent crisis centers are opening up this summer. One of them will be coming soon to The Village for Families & Children. It will be for children 0-18 years old (21 years old for those who are under DCF custody). It will be like urgent care but for mental health help. It will come at no cost to parents. 

"It's kids who are really struggling and sad and hopeless. They may have harmed themselves but they're not actually trying to kill themselves. You can get your support there instead of going to the emergency department," said Dr. Taylor.

However, the funding for those centers runs out in November. Right now, lawmakers are trying to come to an agreement on a budget. 

"Every caucus has their own budget, so what we're doing now, is trying to bring it all together," said Sen. Heather Somers, a leading Republican on the Legislative Public Health Committee.

However, Sen. Somers said the budget proposed by Gov. Lamont does not include an increase in mental health funding.

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"What we have to do now is just continue to press and to advocate for what is important and we think mental health is very important in the state of CT," Sen. Somers said. 

In the meantime, organizations like The Village are hoping that funding comes through. 

"They are working to try to get Medicaid reimbursement for it. At the same time, right now what exists, would not even come close to supporting," Dr. Taylor said.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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