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Depression, anxiety lower for Illinois kids than rest of the nation

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Depression and anxiety among Illinois children declined between 2016 and 2020, while nationally the number climbed to more than 25 percent. That’s according to data released Monday in theAnnie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count data book for 2022.

In 2020, almost 9% of children were struggling with anxiety or depression in 2020, which accounts for 213,000 children. But it is likely numbers were underreported, said Cassie Davis, manager of data and research at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, which is the Illinois grantee for procuring the Kids Count data.

The estimates only represent children who have been diagnosed with or reported to have mental health issues.

“We're taking a lot of steps in the right direction, we just have to keep making sure that this is an issue that we're centering across the state,” Davis said. She said numbers are not as rosy for children of color or those in rural areas.

In Illinois, 3% of children are uninsured, which is about 95,000 children.

Lack of access is a factor because more than eighty of the state’s 102 counties lack a psychiatrist who specializes in children’s mental health.

She said the state leader is trying to improve access to kids’ mental health providers, she said. A children's mental health partnership has been at work and reports its findings to Gov. JB Pritzker,

She noted that Senate Bill 3617 in the latest legislative session was signed into law. ”That is hopefully going to address the shortage of mental health care providers, as well as make telehealth parity permanent,” she said.

Davis said, “Our solutions really need to focus on geography, and also racial ethnic identity. So, you know, I mentioned the current gaps in our counties lacking mental health care providers that specialize in children. That's an issue and so we really want a goal of increasing mental health care providers across counties."

“Telehealth is a very welcomed solution. But we just need to remember that broadband access needs to be equitable,’’ she said. ”So, I'm thinking of rural households of some low income households, just making sure that they have internet access to be able to access those telehealth abilities is really important."

“We know that it makes parents and children have long travel times, (which means) time off of work. And then, just really remembering that when we're increasing the supply of providers, we really need to make sure that we're having providers that are culturally responsive, responsive to the identities and the social needs, and languages of the children that are needing care,’’ she said.

“We know from the data book and other data that children of color experienced mental health in different ways. And so having more providers of color that they can relate to and identify with, will make sure that they're having the best care possible, “ she said.

Meanwhile, Illinois ranked 23rd overall in children’s well being, but the state ranked 12th in education.

Davis said the state has made what she called “a huge commitment", especially in early childhood education.

“I think that that just speaks volumes to when we invest in programs and really commit ourselves, we can offer the best to our children and their families,” she said.

The Casey Foundation looked at how many children aged three and four were not in school; fourth graders not proficient in reading; eighth graders not proficient in math; and high school students not graduating on time.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.