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Reynolds signs order creating Children’s Mental Health Board

May 7, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Editor's note: May is Mental Health month part 1 of a series focusing on the mental health of children and teens in this area and across Iowa.

DES?MOINES?- Gov. Kim Reynolds signed her second executive order on Monday, creating a Children's Mental Health Board and providing the first of many steps to establish a children's mental health system in Iowa.

In 2017, Iowa ranked 50th out of 50 states for mental health care in the United States. The number of available mental health beds is cited as a driving factor in Iowa's deficiency. The move to a regional system of providing care has had mixed results, with some regions experiencing counties leaving the system and taking with it the available funds to provide services.

For children in school, the lack of available counselors in and out of school means kids in need of care often go without. According to the Iowa Department of Education's Bureau of Information and Analysis, the number of counselors has dropped slightly most years since 2000.

Increased stress is a factor in mental health issues among teens. Twenty-nine percent of 11th graders spend nine or more hours on extracurricular activities each week, according to the Iowa Student Survey.

Thirty percent of teens reported sadness or depression from stress, and 31 percent reported feeling overwhelmed and that their stress had increased in the past year. During the school year, teens reported higher stress levels than what adults reported.

Last month, the governor signed comprehensive mental health reform into law. The bipartisan legislation builds on the state's existing mental health system and provides all Iowans with access to the full array of mental health care they need, no matter where they live.

"As I said in my Condition of the State address, to improve Iowa's mental health system, we must identify the gaps," Gov. Reynolds said. "The lack of a coordinated children's mental health system is a significant gap."

"This Children's Mental Health Board will take a comprehensive look at what resources are currently in place and develop a strategic plan with specific recommendations to implement a children's mental health system," she continued. "The establishment of this Children's Mental Health Board lays the foundation of a system that will provide the help Iowa's youth and their families are seeking."

The Iowa Youth Survey, completed every two to three years through the Iowa Department of Health, shows the number of 11th graders who report feeling worthless some days, sad or hopeless, or had thoughts of committing suicide, is creeping up.

"Creating a children's mental health system from scratch is complex, and it will not happen overnight," Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg said. "But I've witnessed the governor's dedication to addressing the gap in mental health services and systems for children, so I know we won't stop working to improve our mental health system until we get it right."

Initially, the Children's Mental Health Board will develop and recommend specific steps to build an integrated, well-coordinated and sustainable children's mental health system. Long-term, the board will serve as the state board, providing oversight and technical assistance to the entire system, according to officials at the Iowa Department of Health.



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