A year has passed since Colorado Children’s Hospital first declared a state of emergency for youth mental health last May. Not a single day has gone by that our organization has not grappled with the human impact of this staggering crisis on our healthcare system.
It’s evident in the eyes of the social workers in our emergency department who bend down to defuse a youngster in crisis on a busy Friday night.
It’s visible among the multidisciplinary team in their third care team meeting of the day trying to work out the tapered treatment options for a patient with complex neuropsychiatric needs, who has been ready for weeks to be discharged from our hospital. , but still waiting for an appropriate placement to open.
And it’s evident on the faces of the young people themselves, their families and the carers who would do anything to snap their fingers and solve the challenges that brought them to our doors in the first place.
Although we wish the world was different a year later, the state of emergency for young people’s mental health has only gotten worse. It holds an important place in our state and in the whole country. To date, the number of children seeking care for mental health needs in our emergency departments has been higher this year than last, and has more than doubled our mental health volumes during the same period in 2019.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released national data showing that in 2021, 37% of high school students reported having poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported that they felt consistently sad or hopeless over the past year. .
When we declared a state of emergency, we began to speak beyond the walls of our hospital in a way we had never done before. We turned on the megaphone at Children’s Hospital Colorado:
We advocated for everyone to be held accountable, calling on all levels of government to take action and partner with the private sector to develop a plan and make it happen. We’ve testified in committee rooms at the State Capitol, collaborated with city leaders to explore local strategies, hired a first mental health officer to guide organizational change, connected with parents in virtual town hall meetings, shared resources with schools and the media, invested millions in generous local philanthropic support to expand our mental health services, and conducted suicide prevention trainings for anyone who would listen.
Although we have not yet reached a turning point in this crisis, there are real reasons for hope. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and bipartisan state lawmakers have delivered on their promise to prioritize youth mental health services among our state’s millions in one-time federal pandemic recovery funds. Thanks to the governor and legislative champions for youth mental health, children and youth will receive their fair share of these vital resources. Dollars will be invested in vital areas, expanding access to services across the continuum of care. The funds will support the mental health workforce, integration of primary care and mental health, critical care residential bed capacity, and school-based mental health services.
Across the country, many states have also been trying to do their part to help children deal with rising mental health needs. So, with the conclusion of the legislative session in Colorado, we mark the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the state of emergency by acknowledging this important progress. At the same time, we recognize that bolder and more transformative efforts are needed at the national level. Now is the time to amplify our voices with our congressional representatives in Washington, DC
Despite all the leadership our bipartisan congressional delegation has shown to lift the health care system and the economy during the emergency response to the pandemic, we are now calling on Congress to respond with equal urgency to the health care crisis. mentality of young people. The scale of the problem must be solved by an equivalent political solution.
It is up to each of our congressional leaders from every region of the state, and American senses Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper, to make a generational and sustained investment in youth mental health that touches every corner of the state.
The clock is turning. Bipartisan mental health legislation currently pending in Congress could be implemented tomorrow if the calls to action are strong enough. These bills include the Strengthening Kids’ Mental Health Now Act, as well as the Children’s Mental Health Infrastructure Act and the Helping Kids Cope Act.
Amid a year of often unrelenting heartache, and at times when it felt like our teams were speaking in a vacuum, our team members still stood up each day and chose hope. , providing compassionate care and meeting the needs of Colorado children and families. to face the battles of life. It is in this spirit that we acknowledge and thank everyone who has heard our cries for help over the past year. We look to the future with the same tenacity and resilient determination to champion youth mental health in the year ahead.
Jena Hausmann is CEO and President of Children’s Hospital Colorado. Ron-Li Liaw, MD, is Chief of Mental Health at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Both live in Denver.
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