The Legislative Gazette: Coalition says more children’s mental health services needed during the pandemic


March 9, 2021

With the coronavirus pandemic reaching its one-year anniversary, the impact on the mental health of many Americans has been monumental. People are losing their loved ones, their jobs, their businesses, their educational opportunities, their social contacts, and more.

A coalition of groups, which has an ally in Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, says that children’s mental health services has not received sufficient funding, especially in light of the various traumas young people have experienced during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has a ripple effect on almost every layer of society,” said Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Hospital — Long Island, which has seen a dramatic increase in the demand for mental health services. “No age group has been spared. The lack of social contact has been especially difficult for young children, given the lack of consistent in-person schooling for many.”

The Campaign for Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids held a live rally in February to demand more funding to provide more access to behavioral health services for children.

With a panel of professionals to discuss the issue of mental health in children, the topic of available mental health services in New York was covered from many perspectives.

Gunther, a former nurse and the chair of the Mental Health Committee in the Assembly, says she is concerned that mental health services for children are not something that New York has chosen to invest in and, she said, “Cutting any children’s mental health services is a travesty.”

More than 4,000 children in New York lost a parent to COVID-19, while 325,000 were pushed to the edge of the poverty line, according to the Center for New York City Affairs.

There are some serious ripple effects when a child loses a parent, according to the United Hospital Fund. Serious long-term mental health implications are one of these ripple effects, possibly leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental health illnesses. As for when a child becomes impoverished,

Funding for suicide prevention programs is not sufficient, say lawmakers and advocates fighting to increase funding in the state budget.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, children’s mental health has deteriorated substantially, with high rates of emergency room visits and suicide rates.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between the months of April and October 2020, emergency room visits by children in mental health crisis climbed steadily.

In New York, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers between ages 15-19 and is the third leading cause of death in children aged 5-14. Suicide rates among Latina and Black children are significantly higher, according to the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

Now is not the time to cut mental health services, participants in the Healthy Minds rally agreed. Instead, there should be more access for those who need help. “This should be a priority. It’s the next generation of adults and if we don’t have an intervention now, they’re going to carry this out for the rest of their lives,” Gunther said.

Children are affected by their experiences, taking in everything that’s going on around them, according to  Dr. Warren Ng, medical director for outpatient behavioral health at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The traumas that children experience have the ability to affect their futures and their possibility of contributing to our society.

Telehealth became overwhelmingly popular due to the pandemic. Used for all kinds of appointments, telemedicine is currently one of the only ways for children to communicate with therapists, and now there are waiting times of months due to the high demand.

“Telemedicine is critical especially during this time when everyone has to social distance and maintain their health,” said Theresa Hassler, vice-president of government affairs at SCO Family of Services.

Of critical importance, notes Hassler, this new mode of mental health delivery must take inequalities into account, allowing access for all without discrimination.

Pinkhasov said, “Right now, more than ever, it’s important to expand mental health services and also educate primary care physicians and pediatricians to make them aware of this problem, so that short-term mental health challenges in our youth do not segue into more serious and longer-term issues.”

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