“Mental illness and mental health issues in general affect nearly every teen in the country. I have personally struggled with OCD and anxiety for many years. I would like to see more representation and interest in mental health in government because mental health is an issue that affects everyone. – Adolescent patient at the Infant Health of Nemours
When the COVID-19 pandemic began over two years ago, we did not know its impact on our physical, emotional or mental health. We’ve learned a lot over the past two years about managing the virus, but the pandemic hasn’t just created new problems – it’s highlighted and, in many cases, made existing problems worse. This was especially true for mental health services across the country. Hospitals and mental health care providers were already dealing with limited capacity before the pandemic. The last few years have pushed him to breaking point. And while we knew Americans of all ages faced mental health challenges, our children faced a rapidly changing world, remote learning, and increased isolation.
According to the US Surgeon General, before the pandemic, as many as one in five children between the ages of 3 and 17 suffered from a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. The challenges that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated these conditions in our children. For example, Nemours Children’s Hospital in Delaware saw an 80% increase in patients for suicide or intentional harm compared to 2020. Due to similar circumstances nationwide, the US Surgeon General released the whole first public health advisory on the youth mental health crisis, an advisory generally reserved for urgent issues that require immediate attention. We commend the Surgeon General for joining national leaders in pediatric care, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Children’s Hospitals, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists in sounding the alarm over America’s youth mental health crisis. We also appreciate that, at several congressional committees with jurisdiction over health, we have witnessed a series of hearings and introductions of bipartisan bills that would make a meaningful difference to the mental health of children in our country.
When the pandemic began, children were exposed to unprecedented pressures, including dramatic changes in their daily routines, education, family life and communities. Lockdowns, quarantine, sudden shift to online learning, lack of social interaction, and increased social media consumption are just some of the external pressures children faced in early the pandemic and which had an impact on them. They have also had to ensure that their families are affected by the difficulties of the pandemic such as the shortage of safe and affordable housing, economic insecurity and even the loss of a parent or grandparent due to the virus. Together, these issues have fueled a widespread crisis in youth mental health, which disproportionately affects communities of color, rural areas and low-income families.
At the same time, primary care waiting lists for a wide range of developmental, psychological and psychiatric services have increased. The increased duties of school counselors and nurses to manage COVID-related illnesses among students have hampered their ability to identify and manage mental health issues. There are increasing numbers of children and young people having to wait long periods of time in the emergency department for outpatient placements and referrals – a phenomenon known as ‘internship’.
This landscape has highlighted the need for additional child mental health infrastructure in America. And now, it’s time for Congress to enact legislation to address this crisis. We need to give hospitals resources to increase capacity for pediatric behavioral and mental health services, improve integration and coordination of behavioral health care, fund community activities, and support workforce training and innovations. works in pediatric health facilities to meet the needs of our children.
There are currently three bipartisan laws in Congress that would do just that. HR 4943, the Children’s Mental Health Infrastructure Act, HR 4944, the Helping Kids Cope Act, and HR 7236, the Strengthen Kids’ Mental Health Now Act. Collectively, these bills, all introduced or co-sponsored in the United States House of Representatives by Representative Blunt Rochester, would improve access to pediatric mental and behavioral health services, increase Medicaid reimbursement for mental health services Pediatrics, promote pediatric mental health and support mental health staff and care coordination efforts recommended by the Surgeon General. These bills would also support community solutions such as school partnerships and community health workers working with pediatric care providers for emergency care, ongoing treatment and follow-up. They are also supporting telehealth services for mental health treatment – a lifeline used by many people throughout the pandemic to access care online.
We can manage and prevent mental health issues with the proper attention and resources. We need to prepare our children for success, and that starts with making sure they have access to the help and tools they need to live long, productive and happy lives. Today, we call on Congress and the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize the need for more funding and resources to fight this crisis, because when we invest in our nation’s children, we are investing in our future. .
Lisa Blunt Rochester is Delaware’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives and sits on the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Kara Odom Walker, MD, MPH, MSHS, is population health manager for the Nemours Children’s Health System.