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Hoosier kids still suffering from mental-health crisis

Children in Indiana are facing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report found mental health is a concern across the country, as children felt the pressures from COVID-19.

Tami Silverman, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, part of the Kids Count Network, said nationally, nearly 12% of children had anxiety or depression, an increase of 26% between 2016 and 2020.

“But in our own state it increased almost 36% in just the last four years,” Silverman pointed out. “That’s a little higher than the national average, and it’s a tremendous increase. So we know that more kids are struggling.”

The report recommended more counselors in schools as one way to address the growing numbers, as well as ensuring children have affordable health coverage to access mental-health care. In overall child well-being, Indiana ranked 28th among states, the second-highest rating among its four neighboring states.

The report ranked Indiana 31st for health trends, with poor marks for the percentage of low-birth weight babies, child and teen deaths, and youths who are overweight or obese. However, Silverman noted Indiana improved in all four economic measures.

“There’s always discussion about proficiency in reading and math, and high school, graduation rates, and postsecondary pathways,” Silverman outlined. “And there’s certainly room for improvement. However, when we look across all of the child well-being, education is actually our state’s bright spot.”

Rates of child poverty also fell, but affects roughly 270,000 Hoosier children.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the federal government has offered supports to help families, such as additional food assistance during the pandemic, but emphasized the assistance is likely to expire soon.

“It’s incredibly important that decision makers seize the opportunity and the lessons learned during the COVID-19 period, when more resources were provided to families,” Boissiere urged. “We can make sure that every child has their basic needs met and that the overall well-being of children increases.”

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