YOUTH BEHAVIORAL HEALTH IN GEORGIA

TWO YEARS INTO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:

PERCEPTIONS OF NEED, SERVICES, AND SYSTEM OF CARE OBTAINED THROUGH REGIONAL TEEN AND CAREGIVER FOCUS GROUPS

What You’ll Learn:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need for, and barriers to, mental health services and supports across the state.
  • Schools are seen (by both youth and caregivers) as places that should promote mental wellness, provide quality behavioral health services, and help families navigate the system in identifying needed supports.
  • Stigma serves as a major hurdle to seeking and receiving behavioral health services, particularly among adolescent males and Black, Latin, and first-generation American youth.

Select Recommendations:

  • State Leadership and Agencies:
    • Continue to expand the Georgia Apex Program’s reach in rural and underserved communities.
    • Via funding and training, encourage schools to start and grow quality school-based mental health programs, and better leverage school counselors to provide behavioral health services to any student in need.
  • Schools: Leverage existing training and resources (e.g., Sources of Strength, Teen Mental Health First Aid, 4-H, Free Your Feels (FYF) campaign), including afterschool and summer learning programs, to develop teen-led or -focused mental health support programs and initiatives, including those that support healthy educator-student relationships (e.g., promote strategies to minimize oversharing of student mental health challenges).
  • Higher Education Institutions: Track and publish demographic data for students enrolled in behavioral health fields and develop outreach and other strategies to attract a more diverse applicant pool.
  • Insurers: Simplify the process for beneficiaries to identify local mental health providers and ensure that provider network information is accurate and indicates whether providers are accepting new patients.

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist in training, I regularly hear about the social, emotional, and financial challenges in the lives of children and their families due to COVID-19. This report provides insight into barriers to care and suggestions for change on both local and state levels. As we have seen in the recent midterms, our youth are engaged and willing to advocate for change. This report further serves as a platform for youth, their families, and their communities to voice their mental health needs.

Dr. Karyn KorsahMorehouse School of Medicine, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow

During the focus groups, we were intentional about creating a conversational feel. This was the most important aspect because it made people feel included and encouraged them to speak honestly and know they will not be judged. So, my advice to other adults who want to engage youth in research and advocacy is to make sure the environment is comforting - teens should feel safe, welcomed, and judgment-free.

Tomi AkinyeleVOX ATL, Teen Focus Group Facilitator

Summary

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were already struggling with unmet mental health needs. In 2019, approximately 40% of American adults with serious mental illness and 60% of youth with major depression did not receive mental health care. Georgians were no exception to this reality as one quarter of the state’s adults and two-thirds of youth reported unmet healthcare needs as of 2019.

This key findings of this report are based on the experiences of, and perceptions shared by caregivers and youth that participated in focus groups. While most data surrounding the effects of COVID-19 on mental health exists solely on a national level or in quantitative forms, these finds add invaluable context in understanding the unique needs of Georgia’s caregivers and youth.

Read the Executive Summary Here
Read the Full Report Here

Findings

Georgia caregiver and youth behavioral health focus group findings were consolidated and presented by the following key themes that emerged from discussions with both groups.

Isolation, uncertainty, and drastic lifestyle changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues in both caregivers and youth.

Access to mental health care before and during the pandemic was extremely limited due to a shortage of providers, inadequate insurance coverage, high costs, and insufficient information.

Identity, family characteristics, and social status create barriers to seeking and receiving mental health care.

School-based mental health (SBMH) care is limited due to administrative demands, training deficiencies, and shortages of school guidance counselors.

Knowledge of local mental health resources varies. Better communication and awareness of those that do exist was identified as a critical need.

Policy Opportunities

The focus group discussions offered key insight into the impact of the pandemic on the mental health needs of children and families and the challenges that they experienced (and continue to experience) in accessing care. Caregivers and youth encountered a myriad of challenges when seeking mental health services and supports. Strengthening school-based mental health services and awareness of such services holds the greatest potential in giving caregivers a tangible entity to tap for help. However, there is room to make strides in reducing stigma surrounding seeking and receiving mental health services. And the state has begun to carve a path forward by prioritizing access to mental health services and supports during the 2022 legislative session. We offer a series of recommendations to address stigma and to continue improving and strengthening access, coordination, the behavioral health workforce, and awareness of available services and supports.

Read Policy Recommendations

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