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East TN Children's Hospital says child mental illness has risen by “disastrous proportions,” legislation introduced to help

With more children reaching out for mental health services than ever before, counselors need more resources to help. Legislation may be on the way.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — As more and more students reach out for help with mental illnesses, school counselors are feeling the burden.

New legislation sponsored by Senator Becky Massey would try and ease that burden, and it is good news for guidance counselors who say they're up to their shoulders in work.

“I have most definitely seen a major increase in mental illness among children," said Ashely Sutton, a guidance counselor for two Anderson County schools. "And the anxiety and the depression are unbelievable in children right now."

She said that this is her 15th year as a school counselor, and it has been the hardest. Other health professionals agree, saying that requires for help rose this year.

Officials with the East Tennessee Children's Hospital agreed. Some said they saw mental health issues in young people reach "disastrous proportions.” The new legislation could change that.

“In grades K-6, they're funded at a level of 1 to 500 students and it would increase it to 1 to 250,” said Sen. Massey.

For grades 7-12, funding would also improve to the same level. Right now, educators in those grades have around one counselor for every 350 students.

“It really is a significant issue of our kids that are needing some extra help in working through some serious issues,” Sen. Massey said.

Right now Sutton is working with over 330 kids and she said she does not just want more help. She said she needs more help to give them the support they need.

“The increase is crucial right now," she said. "I really feel defeated because I feel like I've not met the needs of all the kids that need to be met. I welcome any help I can get."

Sutton says it is not about anything else but the well-being of kids.

“I feel like the more mental health providers we have, the better their academics are going to be. It's not about a statistic,” said Sutton.

The bill would be a $66.5 million recurring cost. It has passed in the Senate Education Committee and is now heading to the Senate Finance Committee for approval.