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Panel discusses need for greater mental health services for Vermont youth

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC

During the legislative session a periodic roundtable on issues called A Seat at the Table is held to discuss issues that concern or affect Vermonters. The latest brought together experts to discuss Mental Health Care and Access for the state’s youth.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for mental health access especially for students across Vermont.

Vermont Youth Lobby Youth Advocate Fatima Khan, an Essex High School student, cited White House data showing suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those between 10 and 24. It also shows a 24% increase in 2020 in emergency room visits for mental health reasons for those aged 5 to 11 and a more than 30% increase among those between 12 and 17.

Khan said throughout the pandemic she and her peers have felt a perpetual sense of anxiety, uncertainty and hopelessness, but there has been nowhere to turn for help.

“We need more mental health resources for youth in Vermont and to expand existing ones with putting more funding into these important causes. Some strategies include increasing the pipeline of mental health providers and expanding telehealth infrastructures. Last year I shadowed in the Emergency Room and I was truly taken aback by the number of patients coming in for mental health reasons. It was astounding." Khan added, "We also should provide more mental health resources in schools and start the conversation there because there is such a stigma around talking about mental health. We have to improve our mental health systems and fundings to it because if we want to save lives and safe futures we have to take concrete steps to improve access and to help youth find the care that they need and that they deserve.”

Burr and Burton Academy Youth Advocate Lexi Lacoste has spent her last three years in high school sharing her personal experiences dealing with mental health and attempted suicide.

“What makes mental health so dangerous is the stigma behind it because we all refuse to talk about it. You know we have words like suicide and self-harm and eating disorder and mental health. We consider those taboo topics and taboo words and we steer around it. And I’ve always asked the question why? The stigma didn’t just follow me at school. It followed me at home." Lacoste explained, "I didn’t grow up in a family where mental health was discussed or talked about. And the stigma is holding back a lot of people from getting those resources. And so I believe that the easiest way to help Vermont youth is if we start having these conversations.”

Northwestern Counseling and Support Services is a non-profit mental health agency. Director of Children, Youth and Family Services Danielle Lindley says they are trying to keep their doors open despite staff shortages and financial challenges.

“We are overwhelmed, under-resourced and not adequately meeting the needs of our youth. Across the state we have high numbers of students in need who are not receiving adequate social, emotional and behavioral support. Schools are seeing increased incidents of violent outbursts, vandalism, sexualized behaviors, defiance, running away and increased threats of harm to self and others," reproted Lindley. "Youth are feeling isolated and because they’ve had to isolate we are seeing higher instances and severity of social anxiety which is leading to an increase in truancy and youth falling behind academically.”

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