Usually athletes are hailed for their prowess during competition. However, this past summer U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka captured the spotlight not for their performances, but rather for admitting their struggles with mental health. And they aren’t alone.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), close to one billion people globally have a mental disorder — including one in seven 10- to 19-year-olds.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added fuel to the fire and exasperated the problem. Last week mental health experts told state legislators on the Interim Joint Committee on Education that Kentucky students are experiencing more anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and schools need more resources to help them.

Anxiety and depression has doubled in children and adolescents since the start of the pandemic, an analysis of studies of more than 80,000 students published in JAMA Pediatrics found.

“When students transitioned to remote learning, we know there was a lot of exposure to trauma, to stress, family stress, even exposure to pornography when they're learning online,” Linda Tyree, crisis response director at Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, said. “So all of these things just compound the problems of adolescence that are just part of normal growing up.”

In fact in the 25 and under population, deaths by suicide rose 11% and hospitalizations for self-harm were up 8% in 2020. During a three-month period last year the youth suicide rate at the Bowling Green-based cooperative, which serves 45 school districts in Kentucky, was 57% higher than the previous year.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

It’s time to stop sweeping mental health issues under the rug. Mental health is just as important as physical health. There needs to be more mental health professionals in Kentucky schools, more teachers with first-aid mental health training and more programs to deter teen suicide.

We urge legislators to remember the mental health needs of our children when it comes to crucial funding decisions. Money spent on mental health resources for students is an investment into Kentucky’s future.

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