UTAH (ABC4) – The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2022 Kids Count Data Book was released on Monday and it shows some staggering numbers about mental health and children. According to the report, anxiety and depression increased 26% among children from the ages of 3 to 17 nationwide in 2020.

Utah scored high in many areas, including first in Family and Community and fourth in Overall Child Well-Being, but child advocates say there is one area of concern — mental health. The report shows that 13% of children in Utah experienced anxiety and/or depression in 2020.

Bella Turner, who has an Instagram page dedicated to mental health awareness, says she was just 14 years old when she first started noticing symptoms of anxiety, depression and OCD — and two years later, the pandemic was a very difficult time for her.

“Being not around a lot of people, I feel like it definitely worsened my anxiety,” says Turner. “I began to become very suicidal as it was coming about because I was just in a constant state of panic. I just didn’t know what to do.”

She says from late 2020 to early 2021, she noticed her symptoms started to worsen.

“I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I’ve been in quarantine for the past six months. How do I go forward with my anxiety, my depression that I’m just now noticing is rising back up again?’” she said.

Martín Munoz, the Kids Count director with Voices for Utah Children says the numbers in the report come from children who have been diagnosed with or reported to have anxiety or depression by a doctor or healthcare provider, which means the number could be underrepresented.

“It’s possibly even higher than the 13%,” explains Munoz. “Children who may not be having that access to general health care, not being able to get in to see a doctor, or getting a yearly checkup. The concern is figuring out how many children really are suffering from this crisis.”

Munoz said some factors to these numbers could be a shortage of healthcare providers as well as stress brought on by the pandemic.

“We learned a lot of the disparities in our society and the crisis that is now becoming a mental health pandemic for our youth,” he said.

Dr. CJ Powers, a psychologist with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, says there has been an increase in mental health conditions over the past few years in children, even before 2020, but isolation and stress from the pandemic added a lot more on top of this trend.

He says it’s important for parents to have conversations about mental health with children early on.

“You can ask about it, how are you feeling, and really listen without trying to make everything okay,” says Powers. “Just trying to hear them out and validating that it is hard.”

Turner urges anyone that may be struggling to reach out, get help and know they’re not alone.

“There’s people around you that love you and that want to help you get through this hard time,” he said.

Powers says some signs to look for in children include becoming more withdrawn, sleeping more or less or seem to display a change in mood or irritability.

The full Amy E. Casey Foundation report can be found here.