Monday, June 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: Minding the mental health of Colorado’s kids

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Our state’s youth have been through a lot in recent years. You might say they have been battle hardened by the wide-ranging challenges thrown in their path.

They weathered the prolonged isolation and alienation of lockdowns and school closures during COVID. They are still trying to make their way through a brave new world in which mind-bending, high-potency pot concentrates and vapes are widely available and in many middle-schoolers backpacks. They are facing a new threat of hallucinogens that are about to flood the market following a 2022 vote to legalize so-called “magic mushrooms.”

Meanwhile, our state has been slammed by an epidemic of opioid overdoses, most often involving deadly fentanyl, touching the lives of countless kids as it shatters households in urban and rural climes alike. And the threat of violence, especially on K-12 campuses, reverberates through school hallways and leaves many of our youth on edge. Colorado of course has a tragic and lengthy history of school violence; just last year, a student at Denver’s East High School shot two school administrators and later took his own life.

Colorado’s children braved it all and continue to do so. Many of them have acquitted themselves well. But it would be a mistake to tell ourselves they are unscathed. The kids most certainly aren’t all right.

Three years ago, on the heels of COVID, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a “pediatric mental health state of emergency” amid an unprecedented wave of children as young as 8 who urgently needed treatment. Most of the cases involve suicidal thoughts and attempts.

And the crisis continues, which is why Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced plans last week to use $20 million from a settlement between the AG and a vaping manufacturer to boost the state’s mental health services for youth.

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“Youth are facing a mental health and vaping crisis that is driven by a lack of meaningful connections in their lives,” Weiser said at a news conference. “Even before the trauma and isolation of the COVID-19 epidemic, children and youth were facing increasing rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, which research shows increases the likelihood of youth vaping.”

Weiser said the $20 million will provide grants to pursue partnerships that target the promotion of mental wellness and interventions for students identified with mental health concerns and with serious concerns that affect daily functions. The grants will go to community partners and school districts to support youth connection and decrease youth vaping. The application period opens this fall.

As The Gazette also reported, a number of foundations already have pledged to invest in school and community-led efforts to develop solutions for youth mental health as well as to deter youth from turning to nicotine usage.

The foundations include Rose Community Foundation, The El Pomar Foundation, The Telluride Foundation, Western Colorado Community Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation, Gazette Charities, The Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation, Caring for Colorado, Gary Community Ventures and the Denver Broncos Foundation.

An oft-recited truism during the pandemic was that “we are all in this together.” It still applies, even with the virus largely behind us. Only this time, it’s about seeing our kids through their mental health crisis.

Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine or quarantine that can end this crisis. Instead, it’ll take all our resolve, our engagement, and our love.

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