Utah council on youth mental health and education approves recommendations for upcoming legislative session


Boram Kim


The Utah Education and Mental Health Coordinating Council unanimously approved its 2022 Findings and Recommendations Report (the initial draft of which is available here) on Wednesday. 


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The council is tasked with annually engaging local education and mental health authorities to develop policy recommendations for the Education and Health and Human Services Interim Committees on behavioral health concerns that affect youth. 

The council’s recommendations advocate for the use of evidence-based approaches for addressing the mental health challenges that face children and youth through early childhood intervention and prevention. 

One of its recommendations for improving early childhood mental health is for the creation of a state-run public education campaign aimed at parents and caregivers to strengthen the emotional foundation for children. 

Over the span of 3 years, the $1.65 million community relations and media campaign would conduct research, develop a website and resources, and raise awareness around the mental health needs of Utah children. 

A national survey on drug use and mental health found that Utah had the highest rate of mental health illness in the country at 29.68% from 2019 to 2020. 

The council’s report estimates that up to 91,000 children between the ages of 0-8 experience mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral challenges. These conditions could develop into mental health issues later if left untreated. 

“I’m pleased with this recommendation that will be put forth to leadership in the legislature as well as to [the] Education Interim Committee and Health and Human Services Interim Committee,” said Co-Chair, State Rep. Melissa Ballard (R – North Salt Lake) at the council meeting. “I have also recommended that the financial requests be sent to the appropriation committees that are associated with those asks.”

Based on its investigation of Medicaid reimbursement for early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment (EPSDT), the council also recommends the providing mental health services to children without first requiring a mental health diagnosis, particularly for children aged 0-5. 

The council found that requiring a diagnosis was a key systemic barrier for children trying to access Medicaid mental health services. It also encouraged the use of the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health, Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood, and other age-appropriate diagnostics criteria when conducting mental health screening. 

The Utah Youth Suicide Research Project (UYSR), which utilizes data from Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Survey to inform its ongoing study of teen suicide in the state, found that adolescents who committed suicide were often in contact with the juvenile court system and not receiving psychiatric treatment or taking psychotropic medications at the time of death.

Based on its study, the project advocates mental health screenings and referrals for high-risk youths to access mental health treatment as part of a suicide prevention effort.

In its last progress report, the project found that suicide among teens is no longer increasing, but remains a concern at 4 suicides per 100,000 Utahns. 

To address those high rates, the council recommends the continued administration of SHARP surveys in public schools to identify youth at risk for suicide, along with additional funding for UYSRP’s work.

The council also endorsed funding outlined in the 2023 budget requests by the Utah State Board of Education and the Utah System of Higher Education.