Guest Commentary: Helping Delaware’s children starts here


Angela Kimball is the national director for advocacy and public policy at Inseparable, a coalition of people sharing a common goal to fundamentally improve mental health care policy.

Take one look at headlines around the country, and it is easy to see that our youth are in the midst of a mental health crisis. Record numbers of children are experiencing anxiety and depression, and parents are struggling to get their kids the help they need.

As a mother who has lost a child to mental illness, I know that struggle. My son grew up at a time when no one talked about mental health, and his neurodiversity was viewed as a problem, even a character flaw, and not as a condition that brought both challenges and great gifts.

The numbers tell a bleak story. For the last two decades, mental health disorders have been on the rise among youth all over America and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has become so dire that, in 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry declared a nationwide youth mental health emergency.

In Delaware, almost half of all youth experiencing major depression did not receive any treatment for their condition. That is a shocking statistic, reflective of thousands of young people who are struggling. To address this crisis, we need to meet youth where they are — in schools. The evidence shows that providing students access to mental health resources in their schools can have a profoundly positive effect on educational and health and life outcomes. Early detection of a mental health problem increases the odds of timely and effective intervention, saving students months, years or even decades of continuing struggles, poor outcomes and even tragic deaths.

That is why House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst’s 2023 package of mental health legislation is so important. Through these bills, Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear, offers effective solutions to fill policy gaps that prevent Delaware’s youth from getting the help they deserve.

This bill package invests in students’ mental health in a number of ways. One bill would allow Medicaid to reimburse schools for behavioral health services. Doing so would bring in new federal funding, stretching taxpayer dollars and allowing Delaware to provide more services to more children. Another bill improves the ratio of mental health professionals to students in high schools. This, combined with Rep. Longhurst’s previous legislation improving ratios in elementary and middle schools, ensures that schools have the ability to support students who may be struggling.

The other bills focus on making day-to-day life easier for kids who struggle with mental health challenges. They include provisions for excused absences due to mental health, mental health service coordinators and Nolan’s law, which provides grief counseling for students after a traumatic school event, such as the suicide of a peer or teacher.

When my son was experiencing significant difficulties, and I was trying to get him help, having someone to lean on at school would have been a game changer. Rep. Longhurst has laid a path to make this a reality for Delaware’s children today. Faced with a flood of childhood mental health challenges, Delaware can begin to stem the tide, through increased access to care and support. This is a chance to make a real difference for all the children and youth out there who are struggling. It is up to lawmakers now to save young lives and make these services available to Delaware’s students.

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