The Fight for Adequate Youth Mental Health Care
By Emily Reckard
Mental Health has been a controversial topic for years, but parents in America are ready to tackle the once stigmatized conversation for their children who are suffering. What’s getting in their way is the government leaders supposed to implement policies to help their needs. Adults are asking politicians on both sides: When are you going to help? It is quite obvious Covid-19 has had an immense amount of negative effects on the world, and in America, one of them is an increase in pediatric mental health issues. Despite the reopening of American schools, students are still struggling. Since the pandemic, it has been estimated that over “25% of the youth experience depressive symptoms while 20% experience anxiety symptoms,” and the numbers are continuing to rise.
Parents are at a crossroads. Their children are suffering, but they have multiple roadblocks in the way of accessing care: affordability, insurance issues, location, long wait times, a lack of pediatric focused mental health care, and more. When one mother, Ann, was interviewed about her child’s experience in obtaining mental health care by Good Morning America, she exclaimed, “we’ve spent anything that they had for college, and possibly everything that their sibling had for college and possibly our retirement, just so that they could do all of this so that they could survive enough to decide what they wanted to do after high school.” Although Insurance companies are required to include mental health care, there is a severe disparity between that and physical care. Insurance often covers only 8 visits, and for the Americans without insurance, they can expect to pay upwards to $300 a session for therapy. If they can afford the care, they struggle to find a provider. Currently, there are zero states that have “a sufficient supply of child & adolescent psychiatrists,” and not a single state fits the criteria of having over 47 doctors. Heavily populated states like Texas and California face a severe shortage of doctors, having less than 17 across the whole area. How are parents supposed to help their children, if the help isn’t there?
This is when parents, better yet Americans in general, started calling on the country’s politicians to make substantial solutions. Mitchell Prinstein, PHD, who is the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Chief Science officer, is unimpressed by what current politicians have put forward: “Right now, the government pays billions of dollars every year to make sure as a national priority that we have a sufficient number of physicians with the right specialties in the right parts of the country so that everyone has access. There is no such effort being made for mental health care providers. . . It really is that substantial and that big of a concern that we’re talking about the need for a major, systemic federal commitment, and we haven’t been doing that for decades.”
There have only been a few substantial “band-aids”, as Prinstein puts it, that have been issued by the government for adequate mental health care, like the 9-8-8 suicide hotline number recently implemented in July 2022 which received a plethora of funding from the U.S government. Other than these, politicians can not agree on the solution for America’s children.
While Democrats seem united on the front that there needs to be more inclusive mental health care offered in schools, more providers in each state, and an increase of “federally funded health care clinics so that anyone in this country, regardless of income, can get the healthcare they need – including mental health services,” many bills have not come to fruition. Many House and Senate Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have spoken out on extensive mental health issues, but we still see significant issues. Biden has made it known that he is actively working to ensure Insurance companies are following the law, and providing equal physical and mental health care coverage.
Republicans, however, are split. Most agree that the pandemic has left children with significant mental health struggles— but they can not seem to find holy ground to implement ways to solve it. They focus mainly on the school aspect in this complicated situation. Some republicans have tried to put forth bills to expand mental health care in schools, but they have been shot down. Their opponents believe that schools should not implement any social-emotional content, even if it is optional, in the hopes to keep certain topics “for home-life and parents.” This goes hand in hand with recent far-right agendas to ban books, gender and sexual education studies, and critical race theory. One thing they do agree on? That school closures were the cause for the increase in mental health symptoms exhibited by our nation’s youth. But when schools reopened, republicans moved to more “pressing” issues for their party.
So, what now? Well, the good news is mental health is less stigmatized than ever before, but there is such a long way to go. Hopefully, politicians can come together for the betterment of our youth by passing bills to widespread mental health care, and parents can sleep soundly knowing that if their child struggles, the help is there. Recently, President Biden has announced plans to increase funding for mental health care in America, which is an amazing start. We must continue to press our government leaders for solutions on issues that matter to Americans, and to keep Americans alive. We can start by emailing our state representatives with our concerns, and looking to see if there are any ways to volunteer in our local communities to spread awareness!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi! I’m Emily and I’m currently a 19-year-old sophomore at Pennsylvania State University studying Political Science & Journalism. I have a passion for all aspects of politics but focus my work on mental health care accessibility, education policies, & gun violence.