OHIO — A spike in mental health-related emergency room visits has a group on a mission to help Ohio’s youngest citizens. 


What You Need To Know

  • Mental health emergency room visits accounted for a 31% increase for children ages 12-17 and a 24% increase for children ages 5-11

  • Resources for adult educators and staff and early intervention for substance abuse, mental & behavioral health for K-12 kids will become key

  • Pilot programs in schools across the region will be implemented this year


Nearly a year into the pandemic, the struggles kids ages 5 to 17 face are showing up in emergency rooms.

“Everyone is experiencing significantly higher depression, anxiety scans (and) are worried about what's happening," said Cricket Meehan, director of Miami University's Center for School Based Mental Health Programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports mental health-related emergency room visits nationwide jumped from March to October of 2020. There was a 31% increase for children ages 12-17 and a 24% increase for children ages 5-11. That’s compared to the same time frame in 2019.

So now, a group led by Cricket Meehan from Miami University’s Center for School Based Mental Health Programs is tackling the problem head on. They’re starting with the help of $6 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund through the Ohio School Wellness Initiative. The plan is to:

  • Implement a student assistance program (SAP) that connects students to substance abuse and mental health services 
  • Strengthen early intervention for substance use, mental health and behavioral health concerns
  • Promote mental wellness among educators

“The staff wellness has been an afterthought, if it’s even talked about. And so this project, that's a priority," said Kathy Oberlin, director of the Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success, who is working with Meehan. She said the needs for staff will cover a wide range.

“It’s a variety; it's trauma-informed kinds of care. It's prevention. It's suicide prevention. It's always about self care.”

But people from all across the state will help with doing school needs assessments through March to provide the best resources and solutions for students and staff based on the area in which they live, while filling in gaps. 

Meehan said that’ll be critical because right now, kids in urban areas have more access to resources.

“In our more rural areas, there tends to be a vacuum. There isn't a lot of folks out there doing that kind of work.”

That state is set for a gradual rollout of the program as they provide support to schools, staff and families. The goal: "We’ll be identifying the second half of this semester, identifying four pilot schools that we plan to have about 80 schools — 10 in each of the regions — that have been identified so that we have good representation across Ohio.” Over the summer, they’ll work with pilot schools and study their progress.

Oberlin said this initiative will be critical as Ohio seeks to come out of the pandemic.

“I think we're talking about the future of our children across Ohio. And their parents and the teachers — everyone really has a part in this that can improve Ohio all over.

By the end of the school year, the hope is to have some of the identified resources and supports available.