Two Senate Committees and one House Committee are focusing on the challenges of access to mental health and substance use services in the next few weeks.  The Senate HELP Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the full House Ways and Means Committee are all focused on the subject and what can be done.

The HELP Committee hearing is this Tuesday, February 1, 2022, and will feature witness from the American Psychological Association, the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, a mental health youth advocate from Anchorage, Alaska, the Boston University School of Medicine’s–Department of Psychiatry, and Centerstone Research Institute, Tennessee.

The House Ways and Means Committee, on Wednesday, February 2, will hold a hearing on America’s Mental Health Crisis.  They are expected to hear from local and county officials and have some discussion of child welfare issues.

The Senate Finance Committee is planning a hearing that will focus on shortfalls in mental health care for children and teenagers in America.  The hearing has been delayed from its January 26, date but the bipartisan effort will include testimony from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy will testify on a Surgeon General Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic.

Earlier the Surgeon General said, “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially in this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”

The announcement by Wyden and Crapo is intended to build on last fall’s bipartisan request for proposals and ideas on how to make improvements to the mental health system.

Last November, the Child Welfare League of America submitted its recommendations to the Senate Finance Committee on how the Committee and country can make critical changes to the nation’s mental health and substance use treatment systems.

In that letter CWLA stated, “Accessing and addressing mental health services is a significant component and challenge within child welfare (including child protection). Thoroughly screening children and families involved with the child welfare and foster care system and providing appropriate treatment, is essential. Primary prevention efforts, family preservation, reunification, adoption, and all forms of permanence requires addressing barriers created by behavioral health needs.”

 According to the Surgeon General, up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the United States are having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. Additionally, from 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students.

Suicidal behaviors among high school students increased during the decade preceding COVID, with 19% seriously considering attempting suicide, a 36% increase from 2009 to 2019, and about 16% having made a suicide plan in the prior year, a 44% increase from 2009 to 2019. Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%, and early estimates show more than 6,600 suicide deaths among this age group in 2020.