Wisconsin children’s mental health report: The bad and the good

Students feel less connected to their schools than they did 5 years ago and are struggling in more classes
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 8:25 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - 2022 was a challenging year for many, especially Wisconsin’s children and teens. That’s the finding of a new report just released by the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health.

The statewide annual assessment shows areas of improvement and decline.

A lot has changed for Wisconsin kids over the past 5 years. New data give us a snapshot of what 2022 looked like for students across the state.

Students like high schooler Ava Pellegrino. “Shortly after the COVID pandemic, when my social anxiety and situational depression peaked, likely brought on by social isolation. I think COVID is a timeframe many pinpoint as a start of the increase in mental health issues. However, I do think these issues were on the rise even prior to COVID, and perhaps COVID gave us the reason to seek out the help,” she said.

The story is similar for thousands of other students.

The annual report shows students feel less connected with their schools than they did 5 years ago. They’re struggling more in their classes, with a noticeable decline in test scores. Even more worrisome, thoughts of self-harm are on the rise.

“I just want you to picture four teenage girls that you know right now. It may be your daughter, nieces, or neighborhood friends. One of those four girls has seriously considered killing herself. One-third of high school students feels sad or hopeless nearly every day,” Amy Marsman, a senior research analyst in the Office of Children’s Mental Health, said.

While the data show concerning patterns, the report does reveal positive changes for children and teens in our state:

  • Bullying has declined 6% since 2017
  • There are fewer teen mothers now than in the past 5 years
  • Schools are adding more counselors and social workers to help students

“The concerns of the trends are being exacerbated by the pandemic, and disconnection that youth have experienced. The good news is that because of the pandemic, more people are willing to talk about mental health and recognize we need to take action to improve children’s well-being,” state Rep. Jill Billings (R-La Crosse) said.

Lawmakers and health leaders say they’ll use this new data to work toward better solutions.