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APA: Congress Must Prioritize Mental Health Care for Children Impacted by the Pandemic

The American Psychological Association urged Congress to acknowledge the pandemic’s short- and long-term impacts on child and adolescent mental health, and to enact measures that would remove barriers to appropriate care and ensure continued services long into the future.

September 27, 2021

Congress must work to improve access to and increase funding for child and adolescent mental health care across the nation, especially in the wake of the pandemic, according to testimony delivered by the American Psychological Association (APA) during a House hearing last week.1

Federal response efforts should focus on mitigating the real and damaging effects of the pandemic on child and adolescent mental health in the short and long term, said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., APA’s CEO, in a Congressional hearing on the topic.

Social isolation, financial uncertainty, and disrupted routines place considerable stress on children and their families, significantly affecting their mental health and well-being,” Evans said before members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

He added that failing to meet a child’s mental health needs could impact their trajectory in life. “This can include a greater likelihood of difficulties with learning, addiction to substances, lower employment prospects, and involvement with the criminal justice system,” he said.

To better serve children and adolescents, Congress must address shortages of mental health providers and increase access to school-based behavioral and physical health care through legislation, as well as remove other barriers to appropriate care, he said.

The country’s approach to child mental health care, Evans noted, necessitated improvement well before the pandemic. The current behavioral health system, he said, requires a patient’s needs to escalate to a crisis point before initiating treatment, which “does not work for children.” A multi-tiered approach that addresses at-risk individuals and emphasizes early intervention would be most effective, he said.

Evans also called on Congress to increase Medicaid funding to schools and to permanently extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

While the country has already made significant investments in mental health during the pandemic, Evans noted that funding must not be temporary, as it traditionally tends to be in moments of crisis. “New investments must be made with the understanding that a long-term commitment is needed.”

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1 American Psychological Association. (2021, September 22.) Congress should increase child and adolescent mental health care, says APA [Press release].