King County Council approves $5 million in funding for youth mental health

CDC statistics show increased mental health emergencies among youth during the pandemic.

On Aug. 16, the King County Council approved a proposal to allocate $5 million in Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) funds to help and support young people with mental and behavioral health conditions in the region.

The measure was sponsored by King County Councilmembers Rod Dembowski, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Girmay Zahilay, and Reagan Dunn.

“It’s clear to any parent across this country and here in King County that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing youth mental health crisis,” Dembowski said. “Many of the necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 disproportionally harmed our young people. We’ve seen drastic increases in suicides, attempted suicides, and mental-health related ER visits. I am proud that the Council acted and look forward to expeditiously getting these funds into the community to help our young people.”

The funding will be split into two main areas, both putting priority on youth services: $2 million will go to behavioral health providers with prioritization of school-based services, mental health first aid for youth, and suicide prevention for youth. The remaining $3 million will fund behavioral health providers, prioritizing children and youth behavioral health services providers, by using levy funds to adjust the amounts of their existing contracts to account for increased costs such as the effects of inflation.

“There is a youth mental health crisis in our country and our region,” Zahilay said. “I was glad to support yesterday’s measure to allocate $5 million toward behavioral health services for young people, with prioritization of school-based services, mental health first aid, and suicide prevention for youth.”

According to the CDC during the first year of the pandemic, mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescents aged 12–17 years increased by 31 percent. In addition, suicide attempts increased with both genders of youth aged 12-17, with an over 50 percent increase in girls attempting suicide.

“Addressing the mental health needs of our youth at this time is critical to mitigating the impacts of the pandemic,” Dunn said. “We will continue to see the long-term effects of social isolation and shifts to a new post-pandemic normal. Providing increased behavioral health support for our children now will help reduce downstream behavioral health issues, including increased substance use.”

The King County MIDD is a countywide 0.1 percent sales tax generating nearly $70 million annually, specifically for programs and services for people living with or at risk of mental and behavioral health conditions.

“Investing in mental health, especially for young people, is absolutely crucial,” Kohl-Welles said. “Making mental health resources available to youth will provide lifelong tools to cope with the inevitable challenges of life, and create healthier, more sustainable, and more informed communities. All of this benefits not only individual young people, but all of us.”