Report: Children and young people continue to experience mental health problems

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Irene Diane is excited about her senior year at Bowie High School, serving as the school’s Student Government Association President, and future aspirations to attend college.

But the 17-year-old Prince George’s County resident says mental health remains a challenge among her peers. One way to eliminate it: Maryland lawmakers must approve a state policy that mirrors legislation introduced last year by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) on Capitol Hill that diverts federal money for school policing and uses it to hiring more school counselors and paying for other student services.

“Disciplining students for things that aren’t violent and enforcing detentions and suspensions, that takes students out of the classroom,” Diane said. “It is a disservice to deprive them of their education.

“It affects a person’s mental health, especially black and brown students, and creates a school-to-prison pipeline.”

Irene Diane, 17, a student at Bowie High School in Prince George’s County, said eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline serves as one way to eliminate mental health challenges among her peers. Photo courtesy of Irene Diane.

Mental health has become a major obstacle in the nation to improving a child’s life, which the Annie E. Casey Foundation describes in its latest Child Count 2022 data book, which assesses the well-being of children across the country and provides a breakdown of services by country and implementation.

The foundation’s 33rd edition focuses on mental health and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected children and families when the virus crippled the nation in early March 2020.

The pandemic has caused delays in the collection of some data from the US Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. For example, 4th grade reading and 8th grade math are based on 2019 data, and high school graduation information from the 2019-20 school year did not arrive in time for publication in the data book.

Although national trends show that children in poverty and parents without secure jobs have gotten “better,” other factors have gotten “worse,” such as 3- and 4-year-olds not going to school and obesity rising among 10- to 17-year-olds.

Black children ranked highest in 2020 among those living in poverty, underweight, and overweight or obese infants.

Nationally, the number of children aged 3 to 17 who experienced anxiety or depression increased by 25% from 9.4% in 2016 to 11.8% in 2020. The figures are based on these , who have either been diagnosed with or have been reported to have these symptoms by a doctor or health care provider.

During the same time period, Maryland ranked 13th in the nation with a 36 percent increase in children ages 3 to 17 with anxiety or depression reported or diagnosed by a doctor or health care provider.

Maryland ranks 19th in the nation for overall child well-being, which the foundation measures as “better.”

Among the foundation’s key indicators of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community, Maryland ranked in the top half of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Everyone deserves a break”

The Maryland Center for Economic Policy in Baltimore, which partnered with the foundation for the first time on the Kids Count report, offered some policy suggestions for Maryland lawmakers.

Benjamin Orr, president and CEO of the political organization, said the Legislature should extend the “modest” $500 child tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The credit provides for families with an annual income of $6,000 or less and have disabled dependents under the age of 17.

Del. Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery) sponsored legislation this year to extend the child tax credit until Jan. 1, 2027. Annual family incomes would increase to $15,000 and provide a credit for children 6 and under or under 17 years for someone with a disability.

Palakovich Carr’s legislation did not make it out of the House committee, but she said in a Post on Twitter On June 4, she will “continue to fight to expand the Maryland Child Tax Credit to include more families.”

Orr also said lawmakers need to ensure the Paid Family and Medical Leave program and the education reform plan, the Plan for Maryland’s Future, are implemented and funded.

“We just can’t say we’ve done this and stop paying attention,” he said. “We need to make sure that these programs are actually fully funded [and] that they produce the benefits that legislators intended.

Stephanie Maseiko, a 16-year-old student at Bowie High School in Prince George’s, came up with an idea that wouldn’t cost much, if anything.

The high school is proposing the reinstatement of a 30-minute advisory period at the school that was used for most of the last school year. Like a study hall, she said students sat in class to catch up on class work, write homework or just relax without live instruction from a teacher.

“It’s been such a positive benefit to the school,” she said.

Less than a month into the start of this school year, Maceiko said the only break during her eight-hour school day is a 30-minute lunch between her two-hour third lesson.

Although preparing to attend college after high school, the pressure of trying to get into a four-year university can be stressful.

The impact of COVID-19 has influenced Maseiko to focus more on her mental health, even if it means sacrificing extra credit for a long-term project or major assignment.

“If it affects me mentally, then I’ll only have two points [missing] so I don’t exhaust myself to the point where it’s unhealthy,” she said. “I manage my time so that it’s not too rushed and not too busy. Everyone deserves a break… because you’re going to cross the line.”

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