During its final meeting of the year last week, the Arizona House Ad Hoc Mental Health Committee adopted recommendations to put the committee’s work into action. The committee was formed earlier this year to research and review information about how substance abuse, bullying and social media are affecting the mental health of Arizona youth, including teen suicides.
At a series of meetings and hearings involving government agencies, law enforcement, non-profit organizations and students, including experts from committees, stakeholders discussed what is currently being done and what should be done to address these issues.
“Today’s meeting was the culmination of months of focus and effort by our members and subcommittees to develop recommendations to close gaps in access to care, raise awareness of bullying and the dangers of social media, and also support those living with addiction like their family members who are forced to see their loved ones suffer,” said Committee Chair and Representative Joanne Osborne.
The committee was formed to provide advice on bullying and social media, family support and drug use, access to health care, and depression and mental illness. In Arizona, teenage suicide is the main cause of death for the age groups 10-14 and 15-25.
Adopted recommendations include establishing a Teen Mental Health Grant program to fund schools and nonprofits for mental health and substance use resources, including training, educational materials, prevention specialists, and marketing campaigns. Additional resources would include mental health first aid training, youth resilience training, and peer-to-peer education for youth, staff, and parents.
The grant would also help school districts develop an app that allows students to report safety issues and access clinical support. Funds from the grant would also go to providers of child mental health services.
The committee believes that lawmakers should consider several resources to fund the grants program, such as the General Fund. Other recommended sources of funding include private donations, grants, and federal funds.
Another accepted recommendation is the establishment of a community hub, which would be a single source of information and resources focused on access to bullying and cyberbullying care, prevention, education and resources. The hub would focus on different types of bullying and the impact of social media, bullying behaviors that parents and children should be aware of, and strategies for students to mitigate incidents and report them to school officials in a timely manner.
Another recommendation that was passed calls for the state to review recruitment and retention efforts for mental health professionals in schools and communities, with the goal of attracting a greater number of providers to enter and stay in the field.
“These recommendations are a call to action on our state, our communities, our schools and our families, and they must be prioritized and implemented to address teen mental health problems before they result in devastating and lasting consequences, such as suicide,” Osborne said said. “There is still work to be done, but the work of this committee is an important first big step in the right direction to give our youth the support they need.”