Today, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) held a hearing entitled, “Caring for Our Kids: Supporting Mental Health in the Transition from High School to College,” which examined efforts to strengthen mental health support for young people, particularly during the crucial transition from high school to higher education. There has been a significant rise in mental health challenges for adolescents—exacerbated by the pandemic—and about half of all people who experience a mental health condition begin presenting symptoms by the age of 14, making high school a critical intervention point.
Youth Mental Health Crisis
“Our Nation is facing a youth mental health crisis. At any given time, approximately one in five teens is struggling with a mental health condition. There is a greater need for youth mental health care than ever before in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many young people are not receiving care until far too late, if at all, because of gaps in our pediatric mental health care system. I am proud to have worked with Ranking Member Cassidy to make this issue a priority and introduce legislation to fill some of these gaps. While we have made strides this Congress to address the mental health crisis among our youngest Americans, it is clear that more work must be done,” said Chairman Casey.
The hearing featured Chairman Casey’s bipartisan legislative efforts to improve mental health support for adolescents.
In June, Chairman Casey and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Ranking Member of the HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families, introduced the Health Care Capacity for Pediatric Mental Health Act, which would establish grant programs to expand mental health integration, workforce training, and care capacity among providers that treat young people. Last year, they also introduced the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act, which would provide information to students with mental health disabilities and their families to help them select the right college, and streamline disability documentation requirements, so that the cost and wait time for repetitive testing is not a barrier to reasonable accommodations.
In August, Chairman Casey and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Investing in Kids’ Mental Health Now Act, which would help address the severe toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children’s mental health by providing pediatric mental health care providers with a Medicaid payment increase through an enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). Pediatric behavioral health care providers serving Medicaid patients in participating states will have access to this funding.
Mental health challenges can have profound consequences on students’ educational outcomes. Students struggling with their mental health are twice as likely to leave college without graduating. While rates of mental health conditions have been relatively stable among older age groups, over the last decade, there has been a dramatic rise in these conditions among young people.
Chairman Casey invited Brooklyn Williams, a high school senior from Pittsburgh, PA, to testify. At her school, Brooklyn founded the Chill Club—an offshoot of the Allegheny Health Network’s Chill Project— which is an open-door mindfulness club aimed at supporting students coping with the stresses of high school.
She testified, “Incorporating mental health topics from an early age would be the first stepping stone I would take to support people’s needs. Talking about these issues with teens before they are calling out for help. Providing more accessible outreach professionals in schools and having all students speak to these people, not just the ones that come for help. Allowing for mental health absent days to be excused just like having a physical illness because mental health and physical health are equally as important. Allowing for anonymous assistance would also be effective because it is evident that most teens do not want to ask for help publicly… Working through these issues will not only give opportunities for teens to grow and flourish into adults, but to also allow our communities to become stronger as we improve the way of life one child at a time.”