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Report highlights the behavioral health needs of youth

Data shows that Ohio youth not receiving mental health services

Mental and behavioral health disorders present real and palpable issues for children as they grow and develop.

In the time of the coronavirus, some of these struggles have become more pronounced.

The Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition and the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio recently released a first-of-its-kind comprehensive report that looked into the demographics, resources and rates of behavioral health issues for youth in all 88 counties in Ohio, while also highlighting key progress and unmet needs.

According to 2020 data from Mental Health America, 48.6 percent of youth in the state of Ohio who have a major depressive episode do not receive any mental health services.

“It is critical that every young Ohioan develops physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally and have access to quality services…” said Joan Englund, executive director of the MHAC. “Each of Ohio’s counties is unique, facing varied challenges and opportunities based on many differences such as population, funding, available workforce, partnerships, and economics. Establishing a concrete and universal Continuum of Care is necessary to evaluate the availability of local services and ultimately ensure our local behavioral health providers can serve the young Ohioans in our communities.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted a national trend of ADHD, anxiety and depression among the leading diagnoses within youth. This trend appears to maintain consistency in Ohio as well, including Washington, Noble, Monroe, Meigs, Athens and Morgan counties.

While the long-term data is not yet solidified, Erin Dinofrio, the school based supervisor for Life & Purpose Behavioral Health in Marietta, believes that there is likely a strong correlation between increased need and the pandemic.

“What I have noticed with my staff and going over their cases…most of my staff are at full capacity,” Dinofrio said. “There have been many more kids that have been referred, and things are definitely more stressful for kids.”

Life & Purpose Behavioral Health contracts with seven different school districts in Ohio: Marietta, Wolf Creek, Fort Frye, Belpre, the Washington County Career Center, Warren Local and Shenandoah in Noble County.

Each district is approached holistically, as definitive needs vary, but across the board these services provide students with access to treatment, case management and classroom interventions that eliminate the need for travel beyond the school building and consider the needs of working-class parents.

According to Dinofrio, one school district recently distributed a survey to students that produced results that are reflective of a larger national reality.

“There were a lot of kids that were identifying there was loss in their life due to COVID, whether that be the loss of loved ones or the loss of jobs for their parents,” Dinofrio said.

While Dinofrio explained that there certainly is less resources than desired for youth with behavioral health conditions in southeast Ohio, she is optimistic that mental health is recognized within the school system.

“Despite our challenges in finding resources and finding people to work in this area, they do recognize that the mental health needs of their students are very important,” Dinofrio said.

David Browne, the executive director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, further reiterates the issue of accessibility.

“We are seeing more and more children that need a higher level of care and would benefit from inpatient services (hospitalization),” Browne said. “However, there are no nearby facilities here in southeast Ohio. There is a new inpatient facility for children being opened in Nelsonville soon. It will have a capacity of 16, and I anticipate it being filled within days of opening…It would be easy to build an inpatient facility for children. However, staffing one locally is out of the question due to lack of additional people with the required licenses being available here.”

Despite having either an equal or greater percentage of behavioral health conditions amongst youth in relation to the state rate of 24 percent, Noble, Morgan and Monroe counties all have significant shortages of mental and behavioral health service providers, according to CDC data.

“Unfortunately our area has identified with the workforce shortage,” said Jamie McGrew, the care management director for the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board serving Coshocton, Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble and Perry Counties. “One of the positives that came out of COVID, and there are very few, is the greater availability of telehealth services.”

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board works with community mental health agencies, such as Allwell Behavioral Health Services in Morgan County and Muskingum Valley Health Centers, through referral assistance and payment services for any lack of insurance coverage.

According to McGrew, there is a significant number of families and individuals in the counties she serves that utilize Medicaid for their healthcare needs.

McGrew stated that her agency and others are ‘always working’ to improve accessibility and reduce travel times to neighboring counties for care and to facilitate the attraction of more licensed behavioral health professionals to the area.

“It is unfortunate, and we would love to be able to provide more services in those counties,” McGrew said.

When evaluating local needs through survey data, major areas of improvement for these underserved counties include the desire for increased trauma service and crisis stabilization availability, as well as greater numbers of licensed psychologists and psychiatrists available for youth and other intensive, community-based behavioral programs.

Jenna Pierson may be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com

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