The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) held a virtual conference Thursday with the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health to address the state’s growing youth mental health crisis.
Linda Hall, the Director of the Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH), participated in the conference along with Amy Marsman, a senior research analyst with OCMH, and two students from Thomas Edison State University and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Hall said students need strong friendships, extracurricular activities and coping skills to secure a steady mental health.
“Youth are telling us that academic stress, stress thinking about their career and pressures related to that is a very important issue for them,” Hall told The Daily Cardinal. She also noted that a family’s financial situation causes mental distress.
Marsman echoed Hall’s sentiments.
“When you have healthy, positive friendships in youth and youth adulthood, it actually protects your mental and physical health and the benefits of quality,” Marsman said.
Healthy relationships can have a stronger impact than socioeconomic status and educational attainment on an individual, Marsman added.
A majority of Americans claimed to have fewer than five close friends and 8% reported having no close friends in a survey conducted during July 2023, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Mental Health America of Wisconsin noted in a 2023 report that the mental health crisis, particularly among children and teens, deepened as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed. The report showed a sharp increase in the number of Milwaukee youth admitted to the emergency room for mental health related concerns.
A social anxiety disorder impacted 7.1% of Americans adults last year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Children and teens who experience social anxiety may have difficulty making friends and engaging in activities that require socialization, according to the NIMH. This puts them at risk of isolation and developing other mental health conditions later in life.
James Hulce, a student at Thomas Edison State University, detailed his experience of overcoming social anxiety.
“In my first year or two of college, I would just kind of go through a lot of courses and the forums and the activities. I didn’t really stop and take the time to make those relationships and talk to people,” he said.
Children wait an average of 11 years between the time they start showing symptoms of a mental illness and receiving treatment, according to Hall. If left untreated, their symptoms may gradually become more severe.
Hall argued that the government must address the crisis by investing in both physical and mental wellbeing, a combination she called “total wellness.”