FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A new study from Children’s Health reveals the extent of the mental health crisis for young people in North Texas.

More than 38 percent of high school students report feeling hopeless or sad every day for more than two weeks at a time, according to the 17th edition of the Beyond ABC report.

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“Honestly, waiting till a child is in crisis is too late,” said Brent Christopher, president of the Children’s Medical Center Foundation.

This biennial comprehensive report on the quality of life for children in North Texas examines four key issue areas: health, economic security, safety and education for children in Dallas, Collin, Cooke, Denton, Fannin and Grayson counties, highlighting key trends and areas of improvement in each.

Significant findings from the report include:

  • An increased need to strengthen mental and behavioral health care for Texas children: In 2020, emergency rooms saw a 24% increase in mental health-related visits for children ages 5 to 11 and a 31% increase for older children
  • The number of children without health insurance continues to increase: Approximately 20% of uninsured children in the United States lived in Texas in 2019, and Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured children, with nearly 1 million Texas children uninsured in 2019
  • Poverty is a leading indicator of the well-being of children: Across the six-county region, 17% of children live below the poverty line, including nearly 1 in 4 children in Dallas County
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on children’s health and well-being: Medicaid delivered 21% fewer screening services, 9% fewer immunizations and nearly 40% fewer dental services during the first few months of the pandemic

Children’s Health saw more than 2,000 kids coming through their Dallas and Plano hospitals for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Dawn Johnson, Medical Director of Primary Care at Children’s Health. “Right below that is all the other visits to other places, including counselors outside the ER and primary care offices.”

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Experts say the data shows the toll the pandemic took on North Texas children with the social isolation, academic challenges, and increased stress at home.

Dallas ISD proactively hired 58 mental health and social work professionals in August 2020 to address the concerns.

“Every initiative we’re trying is working to a certain degree, but the need is just huge. As we discover more, we’re going to need more help,” DISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.

Doctors say families also need to work on spotting the warning signs.

“In younger children, we’re seeing more mental distress and anxiety, aggression, not getting along, not sleeping well, behavioral problems that are outside of normal,” Dr. Johnson said.

For older kids, irritability, isolation, sadness, changes in appetite and sudden poor performance in school could all signal deeper problems.

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“When you have those red flags, listen to them and seek expert care and advice,” said Dr. Johnson.

Caroline Vandergriff