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Tennessee kids struggling with mental health

by PRIDE Newsdesk
Tennessee is 36th in the nation for overall child well-being, with children of color being disproportionately affected.

by Nadia Ramlagan

An increasing number of Tennessee kids are experiencing chronic anxiety and depression, according to new data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The latest Kids Count Data Book shows one in 10 kids in the state was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2020, an eight percent increase since 2016.

Kylie Graves, communication and policy specialist for the Tennessee Commission on Children, said that even prior to the pandemic, communities faced obstacles addressing a rise in mental-health issues driven by social media and other factors.

“But we do know that Tennessee struggles when it comes to children receiving a diagnosis, children receiving treatment,” Graves said. “Really focusing on expanding that, and really making sure we’re addressing the issue as a whole with youth mental health.”

Last year state lawmakers renewed the state’s Mental Health Trust Fund, which directs $250 million toward mental health services for kids. The databook ranks Tennessee 36th in the nation for overall child well-being.

Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children, said the state is experiencing serious mental-health workforce shortages, making it difficult to fill vacancies for school social workers and mental health professionals.

“And so I think an opportunity we have as a state is to look at how can we use resources,” Kennedy said. “Prioritize and raise awareness around opportunities of ways to recruit and lure people into entering the mental health service delivery space.”

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said kids of color are disproportionately affected and are more likely to live in households with economic barriers.

“We are seeing that Black and native children are more likely to experience anxiety and depression,” Boissiere said. “Part of that is because of financial hardship. Part of it because of deeply rooted systemic barriers that children of color face.”

Data from the report show that 39% of Black children had parents who lacked secure employment, compared with 24% of White children.

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