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A Youth Mental Health Epidemic

5 takeaways from today’s Senate Committee hearing on Youth Mental Health

February 15, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a growing crisis in youth mental health, a panel of behavioral health leaders told U.S. lawmakers today.

This morning, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hosted a hearing to identify and address barriers to pediatric mental health care and the ways COVID-19 has accelerated challenges that existed before the pandemic. The hearing was the second in a series of hearings focused on youth mental health.

The hearing comes after the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, while calling for action to address the crisis.

During today’s hearing, a panel of pediatric experts identified the challenges that have accelerated during the pandemic, the critical shortages in the behavioral health workforce, and the barriers limiting access to care.

“Children and adolescents are experiencing mental distress at higher rates and with more dire consequences than ever before,” said Tami D. Benton, MD, FAACAP, FAAP, psychiatrist-in-chief, executive director, and chair, department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Here are five takeaways from the panel testimony:

  1. Access:  Even before the pandemic, young people faced significant challenges accessing mental health care (shortage of providers, lack of broadband access, financial and insurance concerns, complex provider networks, and the stigma associated with mental health)
  2. Effective strategies:  Supporting training for the behavioral health workforce, educators, and other caregivers can improve patient care before a crisis stage. Longer-term investment is needed to expand the behavioral health workforce and to support school-based strategies to connect children to care
  3. Toll of COVID-19:  The pandemic has highlighted and worsened disparities in pediatric mental health care and intensified the crisis
  4. Importance of coverage:  Coverage of the range of behavioral health services and appropriate reimbursement are needed to ensure children receive the right treatment, at the right time, in the right place
  5. Telehealth lessons:  During COVID-19, telehealth has improved access to behavioral health care in rural and underserved areas, local and distant communities, and for working families, and will be an important tool in the scope of services

“We must act now to pivot mental health services from crisis-driven care to prevention,” Dr. Benton said, “and make sure needed treatments are available where families are likely to be, such as pediatricians’ offices, daycare, after-school programs, and schools.”

HAP continues to collaborate with members to develop solutions to address Pennsylvania’s behavioral health crisis and support care for patients across the commonwealth. HAP has developed a set of behavioral health policy recommendations to increase capacity and will continue to advocate for initiatives that improve behavioral health access throughout Pennsylvania.

A replay of today’s hearing is available online.

For more information about HAP’s behavioral health initiatives, contact Jennifer Jordan, HAP’s vice president, regulatory advocacy, with questions or for more information.