Prioritizing Youth Mental Health During the Upcoming Back-to-School Season

Prevention Action Alliance highlights why mental health awareness is vital as students prepare to go back to school.

(Columbus, August 2, 2023) –The back-to-school season is right around the corner, and this time of year is often nerve-racking for teachers, parents, and students alike. When it comes to youth, we need to prioritize their mental health and ensure they have access to (and can access) resources to manage and excel during this time of adjustment and mental pressure. Unfortunately, various societal factors inhibit youth from reaching their full potential in their essential educational experiences.

Last month, The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) released its annual report,Vulnerable to Disruption 2023[1], highlighting the worsening poverty crisis in Ohio. The critical themes that have proven to impact poverty in our state are learning loss caused by the pandemic, access to mental health providers, and access to transportation. According to OACAA’s research, 75 of the 88 Ohio counties are considered shortage areas for mental health workers. Twenty-two of those counties have zero mental health providers registered with Medicaid. Compared to most other states in the nation, Ohioans live less healthy lives and spend increasingly more on health care each year. These struggles disproportionately impact low-income Ohioans. Not only do they have limited access to healthcare, but higher education is not affordable for most Ohioans. Specifically, low-income students are receiving less need-based aid than in previous years.

When students do not have access to education and healthcare resources, mental illness and addiction become significant problems. There is a direct link between Ohio’s poverty crisis and mental health. OACAA states that 42% of Ohioans who suffer from depression make less than $15,000 a year. Both are consequences of each other, and mental health directly correlates to substance abuse and addiction. Prevention is how we start to defeat this impending crisis for youth and every age, class, race, and gender.

Encouraging communities to discuss poverty and its impact on mental health is how we begin reducing obstacles to mental health wellness. PAA provides prevention services to those who cannot easily access the resources they often need.

“Understanding poverty and its impact on the health and wellness of individuals and communities is an important first step in the planning process. We cannot address a problem we do not understand. Education is a prevention strategy that builds the foundation for the work communities need to do,” said Fran Gerbig, Executive Director at Prevention Action Alliance. “We’re thrilled to welcome Patrick Kennedy as the keynote speaker for the 2023 Your Role in Prevention luncheon. He is one of the leading voices on mental health parity and mental health stigma reduction.”

Prevention Action Alliance (PAA) recently spoke with former congressman and mental health advocate Patrick J. Kennedy in preparation for his keynote speech at PAA’s Your Role in Prevention luncheon on August 16th. When asked if prevention plays a role in his mental health advocacy work, he said prevention is his number one priority.

“Prevention is really the only major game-changing solution we can deploy these days with the nature of this mental health and addiction pandemic,” says Kennedy. He highlights the problematic misconceptions surrounding brain health by saying, “There is still difficulty translating the disease of addiction as a brain-based illness. There are genetic components to understanding your illness, which is the main component of any mental illness, including addiction. That is a biological underpinning of addiction; it is genetic and biological.”

Everyone has a role in prevention, and education is the first step. To learn more about what you can do and hear more from our keynote speaker, Patrick J. Kennedy, join us in our second annual Your Role in Prevention Fundraiser luncheon at noon on August 16, 2023, at The Greater Columbus Convention Center. Proceeds will support Prevention Action Alliance’s mission to lead healthy communities in the prevention of substance misuse and promotion of mental health wellness.

To purchase your ticket and provide your support for this cause, visit  Tickets are on sale through Sunday, August 6, 2023.

[1] “The State of Poverty in Ohio – Vulnerable to Disruption – 2023 Report.” The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. July 2023.


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