Panel offers solutions to Colorado’s youth mental health crisis
Not abandoning federal and state lawmakers, the Colorado Children’s Hospital hosted another roundtable to get the message across that action must be taken immediately to address the growing crisis in young patient mental health.
In June, Children’s held similar talks, officially declaring a state of emergency due to an increase in youth suicide attempts and emergency rooms filling up with young psychiatric patients awaiting appropriate treatment. .
The most recent roundtable, held virtually on November 16, continued discussions of the growing crisis, and this time the Aurora-based hospital system – with campuses in Highlands Ranch and Broomfield and facilities in the Denver subway – came equipped with solutions, as he unveiled his “Guide to Child and Youth Mental Health.”
To create the playbook, Children’s collaborated with Healthier Colorado, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Colorado Education Association, Partners for Children’s Mental Health, and the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.
Jake Williams, executive director of Healthier Colorado, said suicide should not be the leading cause of death in children.
Healthier Colorado is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the voices of Coloradans to the public policy process to improve the health of residents of the state.
Williams, as well as a panel of speakers at the Nov. 16 forum, said local, state and federal lawmakers must step up to address the growing mental health crisis that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Colorado, like many states, suffers from a severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists, leading to gaps in access to care for children and youth, according to the manual. The playbook estimates that only 22% of mentally ill youth with severe disabilities receive care.
Jim Weigand, a father of seven from Jefferson County, participated in the discussions, sharing a story about his adopted daughter who struggled with mental health. Wiegand said that in order to get the right care for her daughter, her family had to seek outside Colorado, placing her in a facility in Georgia.
Wiegand said the Georgia facility has helped her daughter for 15 months, forcing the family to move to see her with the additional hurdles created by the pandemic.
Wiegand said his daughter was now home and doing well, but pointed out how frustrating it was to get help in Colorado. Weigand said he was lucky his family could afford to take the steps they took, noting that he has friends in similar situations where their children are not receiving proper assistance.
Dr Sophie Meharena, of Every Child Pediatrics, a section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the system was overwhelmed. Meharena described a Friday afternoon when four of her 16 patients told her they were having thoughts of suicide.
Meharena said parents are overwhelmed with not knowing what to do and the industry is overwhelmed because it does not have the facilities, resources or manpower to deal with the ever-increasing number of patients requiring a mental health intervention.
“Without coordinated and coherent resources and access for all, we cannot have a sustainable system,” Meharena said. “Good mechanics are the key to a durable system to meet Colorado’s needs. Investing in children’s mental health is investing in the future of this country.
By presenting solutions to the problem, the manual points to local policy changes that should include more federal funding with local impact and more local infrastructure for sustainable funding.
The panel pointed to funds coming from the US federal bailout law of 2021, where millions have been earmarked for states to be used for mental health. Panel members are calling on Colorado lawmakers to designate one-third, or $ 150 million, of all funds for youth mental health. The state got $ 450 million from the US bailout.
Williams said that was a reasonable amount given that Colorado youth and young adults under the age of 24 make up 31% of the state’s population.
Zach Zaslow, director of government affairs at Children’s, said the funding couldn’t stop with the US bailout. For the real changes in Colorado, Zaslow said lawmakers at the state and federal level must commit to addressing the crisis by creating sustainable programs and funding beyond 2021.
By creating sustainable programs, Zaslow said children and youth will be able to get the care they need before a crisis occurs.
Meharena said part of the problem is that the system is designed to be responsive rather than proactive.
As part of the solution, the multi-agency playbook calls on state policies to prioritize child and youth mental health through continued federal funding investments and ensure the new Behavioral Health Administration is child-oriented.
Other solutions discussed by the panel include pushing lawmakers to change the way the healthcare system separates physical and mental health. Currently, CHC Chief Medical Officer Dr David Brumbaugh said the way insurance companies deal with mental health makes it difficult for families to afford proper care.
Creating more virtual options for rural communities is also a solution, Zaslow said.
Rebecca Doughty – program director for Four Corners Youth Clinics, a member of the Colorado Association of School Health Clinics – said the shortage of trained psychologists and staff is a major problem in rural communities.
Zaslow said having the ability to speak to trained professionals without having to drive to Aurora would help help struggling youth beyond the Front Range.
Dr Jenna Glover, a clinical child psychologist, said the manual presented by the panel offers tangible information that will show lawmakers how they can begin to fix a faulty system.
Glover and panelists are urging the public to push lawmakers at all levels to start making mental health care for young people a priority.