Report shows mental health crisis among children in Vermont despite high ranking for child well-being

(From Voices for Vermont's Children)

Vermont ranks 5th in child well-being but young Vermonters facing unprecedented mental health impacts in spite of the state’s top ranking

Montpelier — Vermont ranks 5th in child well-being, according to the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how children and families are faring. However, children in Vermont and across America are in the midst of a mental health crisis, struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. This year’s annual resource focuses on youth mental health, concurring with a recent assessment by the U.S. surgeon general that conditions amount to a youth “mental health pandemic.”

The report presents data indicating that in Vermont between 2016 and 2020, the number of 3-17 year olds experiencing depression or anxiety had already increased by 40%, from 13.7% to 19.2%. “These data are not even reflective of the acute and ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that this was a pre-existing trend that has worsened in the last two years,” said Sarah Teel, research director at Voices for Vermont’s Children, an independent non-profit child advocacy organization. “Children right now are growing up at the intersection of global, national, and local crises, from climate change to school teaching shortages, and the impact this is having on their mental health cannot be understated.”

According to Vermont’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey report, compiled with data collected in 2019, 31% of 9th-12th graders and 23% of 6th-8th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row in the previous year. For LGBTQ students, the high school rate was 63% and the middle school rate was 58%. Students of color also had a higher rate: 34% in high school and 30% in middle school, pointing to the cumulative pressures facing specific populations of students and the need to think contextually about mental health supports. As Dr. Aishwarya Joshi, Assistant Faculty at the University of Vermont’s Graduate Counseling Program explains, “the level of accessibility to support resources is not equitable for all. It is important to understand the mental health impact of marginalization and minoritization of a youth based on their social identities and how it affects them and their families' accessibility to resources that are required for sustainable living.”

That these mental health trends exist in spite of Vermont’s ranking 5th overall in the country for child-well being is notable and points to the pervasiveness of this crisis. Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors — and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall. The data in this year’s report are a mix of pre-pandemic and more recent figures and are the latest available.

In addition to the 5th place overall ranking, the report places Vermont:

  • 12th in the Economic well-being domain

  • 5th in Education

  • 3rd in Health

  • 3rd in Family and Community

For more information about Vermont's rankings in the report, read here.  For the full report, go to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.