Report: 213,000 Illinois kids struggle with mental health challenges

Group of teenagers sitting on chairs and talking their problems to psychologist who listening to them and giving advice during psychology therapy group. Photo courtesy of Public News Service

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service

Children’s advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about the mental-health struggles facing Illinois kids.

The 2022 Kids Count Data Book released today highlights how children across the nation are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels.

Cassie Davis, manager of student research for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, which is Illinois’ member of the Kids Count network, said about 9% of Illinois children ages three to 17 experienced challenges.

“I will point out 2016 to 2020 shows a decrease in mental-health conditions for children,” Davis reported. “But it’s important to note the number that this is affecting, and that’s 213,000 children in Illinois are living with anxiety or depression and that’s just in the first year of the pandemic.”

The Data Book ranked Illinois 23rd among the states for overall child-wellbeing. About 95,000 children lack health care coverage, about one in four households has a high housing cost burden, and 16% of Illinois children live in poverty.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, explained children who grow up in poverty or without having their basic needs met experience more stress.

“There’s a direct correlation between trauma and stress and poverty,” Boissiere explained. “We know that the financial hardships that families experience — lack of access to basic needs, like nutrition and health care — has a direct impact on the well-being of kids.”

The report noted racial and ethnic disparities contribute to disproportionately troubling mental-health conditions among children of color. The governor recently signed a law to help expand the number of mental-health professionals across the state.

Davis contended strategies should focus on improving access based on geography and racial/ethnic identities.

“And then making sure we have culturally responsive mental-health care providers that are addressing both identities and languages, especially providers of color,” Davis urged. “Because we know that children of different racial/ethnic identities are experiencing mental health in different ways.”

Davis said 81 of Illinois’ 102 counties currently lack a psychiatrist specializing in youth.