WASHINGTON – At a Senate Finance Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan continued to sound the alarm on the youth mental health crisis in New Hampshire and across the country. The witness at the hearing was Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General.
To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning click here.
Senator Hassan began by discussing how parents in New Hampshire have struggled to get their children the mental health resources that they need.
“I have heard repeatedly, Dr. Murthy, from the parents of children who are struggling with mental health issues but can’t access treatment,” said Senator Hassan. “Even if the families have private insurance, their provider networks are inadequate and the workforce can’t meet what is now a crushing need for pediatric mental health services. Parents recount calling every provider in the region, and being told that there are waits of four to six weeks for remote sessions and three to four weeks for inpatient programs.”
Senator Hassan shared the experience of a counselor in New Hampshire who has firsthand experience with the youth mental health crisis: “One New Hampshire counselor shared her experience, explaining ‘my students are frustrated and feel as though they are on the back burner of care. It is assumed that now that children are back in school, the issues that they faced when at home will go away, but they’re getting worse. We have minimal supports in the schools.’”
Dr. Murthy noted that it is important to provide more mental health support for teachers, as well as students.
“I’ve always felt there were a lot of parallels between health care workers and teachers – they’re both in the business of healing and unfortunately right now they’ve both been on the front lines of COVID and they’re burning out in extraordinary numbers,” Dr. Murthy said.
Dr. Murthy suggested increasing the number of counselors and mental health professionals in schools to bring that critical support directly to educators and students.
In addition, Senator Hassan spoke about the adverse effect of social media on youth mental health, and how media companies are impeding public health research by restricting access to data.
“Let me turn to a topic that I think is a growing concern… that the increased use of social media by young people has accelerated the youth mental health crisis,” said Senator Hassan. “However, as highlighted in your advisory statement, independent researchers face barriers when they are trying to access data from media companies. As a result, the relationship between digital technologies and mental health is really poorly understood.”
In response, Dr. Murthy emphasized the need for safety standards for internet platforms.
“We have safety standards for cars and for other consumer goods,” Dr. Murthy said. “This is a tool, these platforms, that millions and millions of children are using. We need to protect our kids, and that’s where safety standards I think will be essential as well.”
Senator Hassan has continuously brought youth mental health to the forefront as the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected students in New Hampshire and across the country. Earlier this month at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, Senator Hassan read a letter from a Candia student who stated that mental health is not taken seriously enough in schools and workplaces. Last year, Senator Hassan cosponsored legislation to invest in the launch of a 3-digit National Sucide Prevention Lifeline, which was signed into law. Senator Hassan also visited Epping High School to discuss students’ social and emotional needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, The Senate recently passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Hassan and Joni Ernst (R-IA) to encourage the implementation of suicide prevention trainings in schools and communities across the country to help address the rising rate of youth suicide.