May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and our state is certainly more aware than ever of the needs surrounding this public health issue. As Nevada emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and our political, business and community leaders launch efforts to strengthen our economy and train Nevadans for new jobs to secure a better future for themselves and their families. , our state’s recovery will not be complete until our neighbors, colleagues, friends and children fully recover from the mental health effects of the pandemic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that “the worsening mental health crisis for children and adolescents is inextricably linked to the stress caused by COVID-19”, and “[…] the pandemic has undermined the security and stability of families. More than 140,000 children in the United States have lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver, with young people of color being disproportionately affected. With students now back in school, an unprecedented increase in violence against teachers, staff and among students in the Clark County School District is another reminder of the importance of mental health care for our young people. .
It is important to note that COVID-19 has not created a mental health crisis in Nevada. This made a dire situation even worse. Nevada has consistently ranked at the bottom of national mental health measures since at least 2015.
A recent publication of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute reported that Nevada ranked last (51st) between states and the District of Columbia to provide mental health professionals and services to adults and children, according to data from Mental Health America’s 2022 report, “The State of Mental Health in America.”
Identifying and treating mental health issues is difficult at the best of times. The chronic shortage of mental health and social work professionals in Nevada makes this challenge even more daunting. Nevada currently has only one mental health professional available for every 460 Nevada residents. For comparison, the neighboring Mountain West states of Colorado and Utah have a mental health professional to population ratio of 1 in 270 and 1 in 290, respectively.
In 2021, April Corbin Girnus of the Nevada Current reported that “Nevada should double the number of psychologists and psychiatrists to be considered average by national standards”. Further, she noted, “Other specialties are even scarcer: Nevada would need to quadruple the number of clinical professional counselors to reach the national average. The national average is 45.4 professional clinical advisers per 100,000 population. Nevada has 10.3 per 100,000.”
The data reveals an even more troubling story for the youth mental health landscape. A second report of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute found that Nevada had only one school psychologist available for every 1,866 students, with a recommended ratio of 500 to 1. The availability of school social workers is still lacking, with only one social worker available for 8,730 students. students; the recommended ratio of students to school social workers is 250 to 1. This means that Nevada’s school mental health staff currently operates with 26.8% of the recommended number of school psychologists and only 2.9% of the recommended number of school social workers.
While hospitals and health centers are still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, the importance of addressing mental health issues in our communities, businesses and schools falls on all of us. Failure to address mental health issues threatens the lives of our most vulnerable residents and places an increased burden on overcrowded hospitals, schools, prisons and mental health facilities.
Going forward, the influx of federal resources and state actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic can begin to address our mental health deficiencies.
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CCDS spent $761,000 in relief dollars on a “platform to monitor data such as absences, behavior, and academic changes that may be a flag red…” for student mental health issues. During the 2021 legislative session, Nevada funded the Children’s Mobile Crisis Response Team ($600,000). Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is a co-sponsor of the Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act which proposes to expand mental health services in Nevada and nationwide.
In February, Sen. Jacky Rosen introduced the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act to provide direct financial assistance for mental health in K-12 school districts to stem the increase in suicides among young people. The bill is approved by the superintendents of Lyon County and the Clark County School District (CCSD). And in March, Nevada’s higher education system received $2.6 million in federal funds to support a system-wide mental health needs assessment.
Certainly, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) foresees a critical influx of dollars to begin this long road to recovery. As ARPA funds continue to be available and as state, county, and local governments determine allocations of these funds, the governor and state legislature should require full and transparent reporting of spending decisions.
The launch of a “Nevada Data Dashboard that transparently tracks how the state is spending U.S. federal bailout funds,” available at NevadaRecovers.com, is a big step in that direction. Another way for the public to monitor the government’s use of these funds is to recently launch Tracking Local Government ARPA Investmentsan “online resource that compiles information from local governments to offer a detailed picture of how major cities and counties (with populations of at least 250,000) are deploying ARPA funds. Another publication from Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute explores ARPA Investment Tracker data for the Mountain West states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. The report details spending in Henderson, Clark County and Washoe County totaling $37,400,000.
State regional economic development agencies should include mental health professionals among their priorities in workforce development plans.
Funding and transparency are key to solving Nevada’s mental health crisis. But allocating money to programs and services without considering workforce deficits can still challenge the state’s ability to turn the mental health corner. No amount of programmatic funding can solve this problem if there are not enough highly trained mental health professionals ready and able to implement services and interventions. As municipalities commit to allocating funds to mental health, policymakers cannot ignore that the mental health workforce pipeline is a critical aspect of this policy ecosystem, and strategic investments should seek to fill the pipeline appropriately.
Building a mental health workforce in Nevada will take time and money. With a shortage of 1,300 licensed educators in Clark County alone, not to mention thousands of displaced gaming and hospitality workers, the lack of mental health professionals can be relegated to a long list of local needs, county and state. Public health officials and advocates should identify critical needs across the state and propose pilot programs with targeted goals, backed by legislative mandates, for state and local governments, school districts and public agencies. appropriate. Equally important, we must ensure that mental health funding includes targeted strategic investments to help fill the mental health workforce pool with qualified professionals. State regional economic development agencies should include mental health professionals among their priorities in workforce development plans and report on efforts in this critical sector. They should also work with public and private sector partners to recruit and train employees and facilitate the certification of people moving to Nevada to work in mental health.
Cooperation among federal, state, county, and local governments is essential to maximizing the benefits of resources coming from Nevada. To maximize improvements, we need to include our existing mental health professionals in the conversation to ensure policy decisions are made in collaboration with those who know the issues most intimately. Whether through state and local offices, nonprofit organizations, hospitals and health care facilities, schools and universities, or other community outlets, leaders of Nevada must ensure that resources to improve mental health infrastructure and services reach those who need them most without delay.