Mental health problems affect millions of people in the U.S. every year. The widespread physical, social and financial effect of mental health is incredibly worrisome to our society as a whole. Children, in particular, can be extremely vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and behavioral or conduct disorders depending on what is happening in their lives.
A new bill introduced by Colorado State Legislature is a direct response to mental health issues surrounding children due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The bill aims to provide free access to mental health care for children aged 18 years and under, or a person up to 21 years of age who is receiving special education services.
According to the bill the pandemic has put “extraordinary stress” on children and young people from Colorado who, “have experienced enormous disruptions to school, social activities, and support networks, resulting in increased isolation and, in many cases, new or exacerbated instability, particularly as a result of a parent’s loss of employment or stable housing.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Colorado crisis services hotline has seen a 30 percent increase in calls and texts, while at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the numbers of children visiting the emergency psychiatric department have increased by 10 percent due to suicidal thoughts. (1)
If passed, the bipartisan bill (introduced on April 6, 2021) would provide three free sessions with a mental health practitioner through June 2022, with $9 million set aside to reimburse health care providers.
The state would be required to develop a gateway portal or website no later than May 31 where children can fill out an online assessment before connecting with participating providers.
State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet told The Colorado Sun, “We know that kids who are getting the support that they need are healthier and more successful at school.”
Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat, a prime sponsor of the legislation said, “If we can get that to every kid in Colorado? Game-changer.” (2)
The bill points out Colorado’s ranking in the bottom half of states for the prevalence of mental illness and access to care before the pandemic, and had the seventh-highest suicide rate in the US. Suicide is also the leading cause of death among Colorado youth. (1)
National statistics for 2020 show Colorado was positioned number 47 overall indicating a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. Youth ranking for mental health was placed 34. (3)
The bill says “recovery from the pandemic will depend on youth having access to mental health support, regardless of their ability to pay for it.”
Nationally, Democratic US Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced the Covid-19 Mental Health Research Act which would allocate $100 million each year for five years to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to fund research on the mental health repercussions resulting from the pandemic.
With an estimated 16.5 percent of children (7.7 million) experiencing at least one mental health episode, the Colorado bill, and the Covid-19 Mental Health Research Act, can make a positive overall impact on the lives of children both in Colorado and in the United States as a whole. (4)