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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Problem of mental illness isn’t shortage of treatment

    When confronting a problem most people instinctively look first for its cause and try to eliminate it.

    But such logic doesn't apply so much in government, as indicated by government's response to what is reported to be an explosion of mental illness among young people.

    Teachers and school administrators throughout Connecticut say many more of their students are seriously troubled these days.

    The commissioner of the state Mental Health and Addiction Services Department, Nancy Navaretta, reported the other day that one in seven teenagers is mentally ill and that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds. State government's child advocate, Sarah Eagan, added that 48 Connecticut children between the ages of 10 and 17 killed themselves from January 2016 through September 2022.

    So members of Congress, including Connecticut's U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jahana Hayes, are sponsoring what they call the Expanding Access to Mental Health Services in Schools Act, which aims to put counselors or clinics in more schools. Educators and social service people in the state are cheering them on.

    But even if the legislation was enacted immediately it would be many years before it had any effect on the problem. For the legislation just sets up a federal agency for overseeing the training, qualifications, assignment, and compensation of school mental health counselors.

    The legislation would appropriate no money at the outset. Money might be appropriated eventually, though like everything else at the federal level these days, money for mental health would have to get in line behind money meant to continue the war in Ukraine and support illegal immigrants.

    So government might be far more helpful if it investigated the causes of the increasing mental illness of young people. Exactly why are so many more young people becoming mentally ill?

    At a recent gathering at a school in Waterbury, Rep. DeLauro attributed the mental illness epidemic to bullying, stress, isolation and social media.

    But young people always have faced bullying, stress and isolation. Youth is the primary time of life for apprehension, depression and mental disturbance. So why have the causes of mental illness in young people become so much worse in recent years?

    Schools are notorious for failing to act effectively against bullying, perhaps because political correctness does not permit seriously disciplining students for misconduct. With a little political courage, school policy could be changed.

    Social media is new, but parents can disconnect their children from social media by restricting their use of mobile phones.

    Other causes of stress among children and society generally are easy to see, at least if you're not a member of Congress. In recent years inflation has been worse with the top two necessities of life, food and housing. Food banks and housing authorities in Connecticut report that food and housing inflation have made many people desperate and that even fully employed people are having much trouble supporting themselves and their families.

    But few members of Congress, and none from Connecticut, take any responsibility for inflation and the stress it has put on society. Members of Congress are content to congratulate themselves for the patronage goodies they are distributing that have been purchased not with tax money but borrowed money, money that the country never will be able to repay.

    Parenting was already declining throughout the country long before government's inflationary response to the recent virus epidemic. A third or more of American children are growing up without a father in their home, thus lacking the moral, emotional and financial support a father ordinarily would provide. Impoverishing many of these households, inflation has weakened the parenting of many more children.

    Mental illness among young people might be addressed directly by aiming at its causes — by knocking inflation down sharply and ending the welfare system's subsidies for childbearing outside marriage.

    But instead advocates of the Expanding Access to Mental Health Services in Schools Act envision a lot more government employment and regulation, as if the bigger problem is the shortage of treatment for mental illness and not the explosion of mental illness itself.

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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