Who Will Help the Children? by Executive Director Barbra Silver

Throughout the country and here in Alameda County, demands for mental health services for children are exceeding the capacity of the system. At my own agency, we are now seeing a mental health crises at younger ages, particularly among youth under 12. Some as young as 8. This includes suicidal thoughts, self-harming behaviors and impacts of sexual abuse.

According to recent report in the New York Times, “Even before the pandemic, a mental health crisis was brewing among children struggling with bullying, abuse, eating disorders, racism or undiagnosed mental health conditions. But now, children are facing even more stressors, like the loss of a family member to Covid-19, adjusting to remote school or the anxiety of returning to in-person school.” 8-Year-Olds in Despair: The Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Younger

As we anticipate the opening of schools and prepare ourselves and our systems for this surge of need, we are also experiencing state-wide mental health workforce shortages. We must understand the risks of not investing fully in mental health prevention and early intervention and the benefits of fully supporting the continuum of services that supports both parents and children through stressful life circumstances combined with the impact of social inequities. This also includes investing government and private dollars to provide for a well-trained, and fairly compensated workforce to respond to these challenging issues before children end up needing emergency services. For those most vulnerable, these services are primarily provided by non-profit organizations who have deep ties to diverse communities and can adapt to shifting trends rapidly.

The mental health crisis will have far reaching consequences – life and death consequences. Rising to these challenges as a society to say children’s lives are worth the investment is essential.