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New report: Wyoming children face high rates of depression, anxiety

Annie E Casey Foundation website

A new report finds that kids in Wyoming do better on most metrics than kids in other states. But those children are more likely to experience mental health problems and lack health insurance.

Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes a report on the wellbeing of families and children across the United States. The Wyoming Community Foundation is helping to distribute a state-specific report in tandem with the national release.

Wyoming continues to outperform other states when it comes to metrics about education, economic wellbeing and family and community. Micah Richardson with the Wyoming Community Foundation said the state has not seen the same pandemic-stress – at least in those specific areas.

"A lot of other states maybe had some additional volatility that perhaps Wyoming didn't," Richardson said. "But we continue to fall in the health domain. The percentage of children without health insurance continues to stay really high."

This is one of the reasons the Wyoming Community Foundation supports Medicaid expansion. Wyoming is one of just a few states that have not expanded Medicaid; research shows that Medicaid expansion reliably reduces the number of children who go uninsured.

The new report also highlights an increase in depression and anxiety among youth – a trend the U.S. Surgeon General is calling a "mental health pandemic" for youth.

The report points nationally to the increasing prevalence of gun violence and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as driving forces. More than 200,000 children lost a parent or primary caregiver to the pandemic.

In Wyoming, 14 percent of children aged three to 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression; the national average is less than 12 percent.

Richardson said that's hardly surprising for a state with such consistently high suicide rates.

"This is an issue that Wyoming should always be looking at because you have such high rates of suicides," she said. "So, thinking about what we need to do to ensure that our youth and our families have the resources they need."

Richardson said Wyoming has a shortage of mental health providers, and are even harder to access in rural places. She added the foundation would like to see the legislature spend more on mental health.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.

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