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Consensus grows that the pandemic has taken a big emotional toll on young people

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a growing consensus that the pandemic has taken a big emotional toll on young people. Any parent could tell you as much. So several advocacy groups got together to look at this problem, and they've come out with two new reports revealing just how deeply this is being felt across the country and what states are doing to address it.

To lay out the data, we're joined by NPR health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee. Rhitu, good morning.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What are the reports saying that we don't already know?

CHATTERJEE: The big takeaway of one of the reports is that a vast majority - nearly 90% of Americans are concerned about the well-being of the next generation, and 80% of parents of kids under 18 are worried about their own kids.

Angela Kimball is with Inseparable, one of the many organizations involved in the reports, and here's what she told me.

ANGELA KIMBALL: Across different incomes, different political stripes, like, essentially a very consistent sense that youth today are struggling.

CHATTERJEE: And she says a majority feels that lawmakers need to address this and that school-based services are an important and necessary part of the solution.

MARTIN: So what does that mean? I mean, what should schools be doing that they haven't been doing or not to the degree they should be doing during the pandemic?

CHATTERJEE: So schools have been doing quite a bit. And it involves a range of things - things like including mental health and health curricula so that educators can start a conversation with students, to give them language to talk about what they might experience, to educate teachers about signs and symptoms to look for so that they can connect students to help when needed. And schools have been bringing in more counselors and psychologists. And it doesn't stop at the gates of the school because they need to be able to connect kids to ongoing care in the community for more complex mental illnesses.

MARTIN: Right. And we should just lay out some of this. I mean, it's the isolation. It's the virus itself...

CHATTERJEE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Perhaps taking family members - I mean, the loss of the pandemic. There's so much that our young people are dealing with.

CHATTERJEE: Yeah. Economic hardships and families, too - yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. There's been so much. So which states are getting this right in terms of coming up with ways to address this?

CHATTERJEE: So Colorado, Washington state, Illinois, Nevada are among the top states. And they're doing several things right. So Kimball said, for example, Colorado is leveraging Medicaid to cover school-based mental health services, including telehealth, to all eligible students. And...

KIMBALL: Another thing that they are doing particularly well is in an area that we call healthy school climate. So they've adopted legislation around anti-bullying, around anti-discrimination - so creating a more inclusive environment for marginalized students.

CHATTERJEE: Because we know that marginalized students are at a higher risk of mental health problems. And Kimball and others involved in the report say they hope that federal and state lawmakers will adopt and implement these kinds of measures to improve school-based mental health care.

MARTIN: Are lawmakers paying attention to this?

CHATTERJEE: Absolutely. There have been several congressional hearings on the topic in recent months, including one this week. And both mental health professionals and young people have testified. One of them is a 17-year-old Trace Terrell. He had struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. And he told members of the Senate Finance Committee about things several teens texted him recently.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRACE TERRELL: 4:07 p.m. - I just need someone to talk to. 4:37 p.m. - my dad hit me, but you can't call the cops. 5:23 p.m. - I need therapy, but my family can't afford it. 8:07 p.m. - I just lost my dad, and I can't stop crying.

MARTIN: That's so hard to hear.

CHATTERJEE: Yeah. And it's dire. And there's bipartisan interest in doing - in addressing this.

MARTIN: NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee - thank you.

And if you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.