Childhood mental illness tops the list of the Our Children, Our Future’s 2016 Legislative Platform, released Monday.
OCOF executive director Stephen Smith said the issue, which was selected by a vote of more than 2,500 people, speaks to a Department of Justice report.
“(The report) says our youth mental health is so bad we’re violating the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Smith said. “Part of it is this sort of deep understanding people have that if a child is already facing mental health issues, what’s going to come of them when they become an adult?”
Smith said those issues may manifest in children as young as 9 who don’t know how to cope with what’s going on in their lives.
The campaign will call on lawmakers to pass legislation that will create a comprehensive mental and behavioral health plan for children.
Nearly all the issues speak to poverty in some way. Smith said some, like expanding broadband access, would create jobs; others, such as increasing local food access and profitability, would address hunger and healthy food.
All of them provide an opportunity for West Virginians, he said.
Smith said it’s a “popular myth” that West Virginians have a culture difference of fatalism that people have gotten used to the way things are and can’t lift themselves out of it.
“I think that’s hogwash,” Smith said.
He said when OCOF or its partners give people an opportunity to do something they “bust the door down.”
“I believe people can make things better,” he said. “They want to make them better.”