Earlier this month, Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) announced this week’s hearing that will focus on shortfalls in mental health care for children and teenagers in America.  Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy will testify on a Surgeon General Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health.

In issuing the advisory 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.”

In announcing the hearing Chairman Wyden said, “Children in America are facing unprecedented challenges to their mental health – from technology to a rapidly changing world including a global pandemic. I am pleased that the Surgeon General has accepted our invitation to come before the committee, share his findings, and work with members on a bipartisan basis towards solutions that will help youth in America access good quality mental health care.”

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

On Monday, November 1, 2021, 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.

The Committee had asked the behavioral health community and other parties to submit recommendation to the Committee by November 1, 2021. The CWLA letter stated that addressing mental health services is a significant need and challenge within child welfare (including child protection).  It points out that 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.