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DHS shares findings on 'Wisconsin youth's declining mental health'

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MADISON (WLUK) -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is looking back on 2022, reflecting on children's mental health and how the state can do better to support Wisconsin's youth.

DHS officials held a briefing Friday to report their findings. The data collected in 2022 was compared to a baseline score from five years ago, meaning before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department says that Wisconsin youth's mental health is on the decline overall.

School connectedness is down to 61% compared to the baseline 71%. This is a concern for the DHS, as research has shown students tend to feel like they belong when the school community is more connected. This sense of belonging has been shown to lead to better mental health as well.

The number of high school students feeling sad or hopeless is on the rise but is below average. Of those surveyed, 34% reported feeling sad or hopeless compared to the 27% baseline score. Nationally, 35% of high school students report feeling sad or hopeless.

The percentage of young adults, ages 18 to 25, experiencing any mental illness is on the rise and higher than national. Of the youth surveyed, roughly a third of them reported experiencing a mental illness, compared to 30% nationally and 24% five years ago.

Click here to view the full report.

While the department says there are areas that need addressing, Wisconsin is heading in the right direction in some areas as well.

Bullying, specifically on school property, appears to be on the decline in the state -- 18% of students surveyed reported experiencing it in 2022 compared to the 24% baseline. Nationally, 20% of students are believed to experience bullying at school.

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The number of school social workers, counselors and psychologists across the state is on the rise. The DHS attributes this to the initiatives funded by pandemic relief funds. While the increase in the number of these staff members shows more support being provided for students, the DHS still says "like all states, Wisconsin is far below recommended levels."

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