Our state had a mental health crisis before the pandemic and it's clear the lock downs are making it worse. I'm grateful my colleagues and I made fighting this crisis a top priority.
The need is great. Teen suicide has doubled since 2007. Our state ranks near the bottom in the number of youth who experienced a major depressive episode, but did not get mental health services. Twenty-four percent of kids in our state are diagnosed with a mental illness. We are ranked too low (36th) in the number of mental health workers who can help. I fought to change those rankings.
Investing in mental health was a huge priority in the state budget. I made sure we doubled current funding for student mental health programs to help kids access needed services. Our total investment in mental health funding reached $18.57 million. I also led on investing in the Child Psychiatry Consultation Program which connects primary care doctors with child psychiatrists so they can adequately treat the kids in their care.
Another resource for kids comes from a bill I authored with Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke of Kaukauna. Wisconsin Act 117
allows the Medical College of Wisconsin to create a school-based mental health consultation pilot program. The pilot is funded with $175,000 annually from the Department of Health Services and will educate school personnel on how to manage mental health concerns in the classroom, where to refer complex cases, and will also receive educational training seminars.
That won't be the only help kids will have in school. I also wrote a bill that will fund peer-to-peer suicide prevention programs for our schools
. Peer-to-peer programs like "Hope Squad" and "Sources of Strength" are making a real difference in preventing suicides. The programs help change the way kids talk about mental health, train peers to identify signs of crisis and seek help, and train student leaders for kids to contact when they need additional support.
Tragically, suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in our state. For kids between the ages of 10 and 18, it's the second leading cause of death. Peer-to-Peer programs will help kids see a support network in their school and help them understand that they are not alone.
Money and new laws won't completely solve the mental health crisis in our state, but I am proud of the efforts we've made to make this issue a priority. If you know someone in crisis, don't be afraid to ask the tough questions.