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Experts: WV Mental-Health Issues Can Spur Child Anxiety


Thursday, May 5, 2022   

Marking Mental Health Awareness Month, advocates contended more outreach and services are needed to help West Virginia caregivers with their mental health, which can lead to increased anxiety for children and other difficulties for families.

In addition to May's focus on mental health, this week also highlights Children's Mental Health Awareness, underscoring positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development.

Global nonprofit Save the Children works to increase mental-health programs in the Mountain State.

Erika Blackburn, lead associate of community engagement in West Virginia for the group, said while more than a third of the state's adults recently reported persistent anxiety -- placing West Virginia in the top three states across the nation -- children face the same problem in their own lives, as well as by modeling their parents and caregivers.

"A lot of the options that were presented to others across the country during the pandemic were difficult for a lot of our children because of the lack of connectivity," Blackburn pointed out. "There's certainly areas where we work in West Virginia that do not have reliable internet."

Blackburn said Save the Children's social and emotional learning program, Journey of Hope, helps around 500 children across 10 West Virginia school districts to explore and understand their emotions, develop healthy coping skills and build resilience for future challenges.

Blackburn added the COVID pandemic, and subsequent interruptions to their normal routine, only exacerbated the mental-health challenges children already face in the state.

"Exposure to a lot of trauma from the opioid crisis, and just being away from their teachers and the child-serving professionals that are too often the only source of love and support some children receive," Blackburn emphasized.

Greta Wetzel, senior adviser of psychosocial support for Save the Children, said the problems West Virginia faces often are the same as other states with large rural populations.

"In our rural communities, you might have one mental-health facility for the whole county that could be an hour drive away from you, or one social worker that covers the entire school district," Wetzel outlined.

Wetzel noted Journey of Hope programs also offer services for caregivers, explaining while adults are often focused on the needs of children, they need to take moments for themselves.

Disclosure: Save the Children contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Early Childhood Education, Education, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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