West Virginia families expect increased financial stress and anxiety in the new year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment remains at a record high and inflation has surpassed levels not seen since 1990.
Stormy Johnson, student support specialist for Preston County Schools and a single mother of three, said her mental health has suffered from struggling to pay for basic expenses, but she tries to shield her kids from feelings of anxiety “because I’ve got to be well to take care of my kids,” Johnson explained. “As a single mother, they fully depend on me.”
The state is working to boost the behavioral health workforce. In December, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureaus for Behavioral Health and Public Health announced a new financial-assistance initiative to help repay student loans for recent graduates who are master’s-level social workers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners.
Johnson pointed out her children’s mental health has been affected by household financial stress, heightened by uncertainty around federal child tax credit payments that helped put food on the table. Most West Virginia families received their last tax credit payment Dec. 15, and so far it remains unclear whether the increased payments will restart in the new year.
“It ultimately is a super-big stressor, because what’s going to happen now is I’m going to go back to not eating so that my kids can eat, because I don’t qualify for SNAP,” Johnson said. “I’m dependent on this to feed myself.”
The U.S. surgeon general recently warned worsening mental health among kids and youths are “real and widespread.”
A report from the Surgeon General’s Office called for communities to take steps to reduce stigma, bias and negative stereotypes around mental illness, and for ensuring children are screened regularly for mental health challenges and risk factors at their school or primary care doctor’s office.