Recent natural disasters worsen mental health issues among Kentucky children

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public press service

Displacement from housing and emotional trauma caused by natural disasters over the past year are likely to worsen the mental health of children in the Commonwealth, experts say. new data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count data book show that the state has already seen a 28% increase in anxiety or depression in children between 2016 and 2020.

Dr. Terry Brooks, Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocatespointed out that economic uncertainty and inflation are placing additional burdens on households trying to recover from floods and tornadoes.

The state a child is born in, in addition to family and community characteristics, ultimately affects their chances of thriving, according to research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. (Photo by Adobe Stock, via PNS)

“Emerging data confirms what common sense has always told us: growing up is hard,” Brooks said. “You add in growing in the midst of pandemics, in the midst of natural disasters, and that’s a multiplier.”

More than 200,000 children across the state still live in poverty. The report ranks Kentucky 37th among states for overall child well-being.

Louisville psychologist Joseph Bargione said more than half a million Kentucky children who attend public schools have a diagnosed mental health disorder. He said young people need support to develop their resilience skills, as well as time and space to express their feelings and have them validated.

“When we look at primary school students,” Bargione said, “we see problems with attendance or concentration, concentration, academic avoidance, stickiness, aggression.”

He said middle and high school students often suffer from sleep disturbances, eating disorders, restlessness and anxiety.

Gerry Roll, Managing Director of the Kentucky Appalachian Foundationsaid now is the time to invest smartly in Eastern Kentucky, which could lay the foundation for strong communities and build new homes on land less prone to flooding.

“But I think what we’re going to do now,” Roll said, “is think about, ‘How can we rebuild in a way that creates more resilience?'”

Displacement and inaccessibility of housing also limit the resources families have for other necessities such as food, healthcare and transportation, the report says.

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