COLORADO SPRINGS — There's a mental health crisis among youth nation-wide, and the COVID-19 pandemic has played a big role in that. Right now, lawmakers at the national level and the state level are working to address the crisis.
On Tuesday, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, testified during the Senate Finance Committee meeting. Murthy said the pandemic's impact on youth mental health is "devastating." Now that the legislative session is underway, he's urging lawmakers to support policies to improve access to mental health care for youth, and to boost the mental health workforce. It has received bipartisan support across the country.
The problem is so concerning that the American Academy of Pediatrics declared youth mental health issues as a national emergency.
Right now, the Colorado legislature is discussing several ways to tackle the issue here in our state.
Heidi Baskfield, the Vice President of Population Health and Advocacy at Children's Hospital Colorado says that includes: providing more resources for mental health programs at school, having more community-based services, and more residential treatment centers.
These conversations have also gotten support from Children's Hospital Colorado.
"I think what continues to be unique, and not in a good way about Colorado, is suicide remains a leading cause of death for kids over the age of 10. And so that makes a big difference when you think about how much of a system hasn't existed," said Baskfield. "School pediatrician offices, child care centers and hospitals are saying they are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for mental health care in their settings. This is a true indicator that kids across the board are clearly struggling with their mental health."
Baskfield mentioned we could start seeing change in state policies as early as this summer.
Part of the solution is also funding the workforce pipeline and making graduate and undergraduate programs more accessible for people in the mental health care field.
Meanwhile Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is also working at the federal level to address mental health equity and access to care across the country. He and other senators introduced a bill called "The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act." It's goal is to make care more accessible, and make sure insurers treat and cover mental health like they do physical health.
Baskfield said change won't happen overnight, and it takes a village to address this crisis.
"We have a lot of work to do for these trends to be different, and this isn't something that you just flip the switch on, and it's different tomorrow, said Baskfield. "We need to have a similar level of comfort with how we are able to both spot and respond to certain mental health issues. And all of us should get training in mental health first aid. We all need to have that baseline understanding of when someone's struggling, how we don't think twice about jumping in and intervening."
According to Baskfield, state lawmakers are looking to set aside nearly 30% of $450,000,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding to support youth and their mental health. On the national level, efforts are also underway to draft a legislative package to address mental health.
"We've got a long way to go to create effective investments in this country, but it sounds like we've got really good attention being put on this," said Baskfield.