Each year, the Kids Count Data Book is published by Annie E. Casey Foundation, allowing us to compare how our youth are faring compared to other children nationwide. This year, some specific areas of interest were highlighted, including the mental health of our youth. The spotlight on youth mental health has only brightened in recent years, with increasing concern around the pandemic’s impacts on anxiety and depression. 

The rise in concerns around youth mental health prompted the US surgeon general to announce that youth mental health is a crisis across the nation that demands immediate action. Pre-COVID-19, anxiety and depression in Kentucky were at an estimated rate of 12.4% in 2016. By the first year of the pandemic, it climbed to 15.9%, amounting to an additional 29,000 children across the Commonwealth battling mental health issues. 

The problem only intensifies across minority demographics. Around 9% of high schoolers struggle with mental health, but 12% of Black students, and 13% of two or more race students attempted suicide according to the latest national survey. LGBTQ+ youth are especially at-risk, with around 23% attempting suicide annually, almost four times likelier than their heterosexual counterparts. 

We know that mental health affects overall health and wellbeing, and there are clear connections to oral health outcomes, including:

  • Loss of appetite and poor nutrition
  • Dental anxiety/fear
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks like brushing of teeth
  • Smoking, substance use, and alcohol abuse

These problems can lead to a number of negative oral health outcomes, from gum disease to tooth decay.

The data book also highlights community conditions that impact a family’s ability to meet their health and oral health needs. Although we have seen an increase in the number of children with health coverage in the last decade, an estimated 4% of Kentucky’s kids are still without health insurance. Additionally, 27% of Kentucky’s children have parents lacking secure employment, and 17% of the Commonwealth’s youth are living in poverty. These problems, created by the perfect storm of mental health decline and financial hardship, have established effects on overall health and wellbeing, including being directly related to health conditions such as heart disease and pneumonia. 

The recently released data highlights the need for continued work to address health and oral health outcomes. KOHC is committed to finding solutions to improve health outcomes for all Kentuckians.