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Children’s mental health

Opportunities for psychologists to provide evidence-based policy solutions to threats to our nation’s mental health

New calls from the Biden administration and Congress offer hope for bipartisan progress on addressing systemic barriers to mental health equity, including mental health workforce shortages, mental health parity enforcement, and investments in research and prevention programs.

Cite this
American Psychological Association. (2022, March 1). Opportunities for psychologists to provide evidence-based policy solutions to threats to our nation’s mental health.

Black mother and daughter interacting with psychologist

As policymakers focused on the response and recovery from COVID-19, social isolation, stress, anxiety, and depression among youth have risen to crisis levels. 

The fragmented mental health care system is reflected in the seven congressional committees that each have jurisdiction over authorizing and funding critical health care, research, and education programs that are needed to provide comprehensive solutions. APA and psychologists have been urging investments in psychological research, health promotion and prevention, integrated care, and in programs that train culturally competent psychologists and offer loan repayment for clinicians to work in communities most in need.  

Congress and the Biden administration continue to seek the input of APA and diverse psychologists as they work on developing evidence-based solutions to ongoing and new threats to our nation’s mental health. House and Senate committees have invited leading psychologists to share their evidence-based recommendations on ways to improve youth mental health, treat substance use disorders, prevent suicides, promote health equity, and reduce workforce shortages.

Youth mental health and social media

Testifying at a House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing “Americans In Need: Responding To The National Mental Health Crisis,” Jacqueline Nesi, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, shared her own research into the complex relationship between social media use and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Nesi urged Congress to provide more investments in research on the impact of social media on children and adolescent mental health and to improve access to mental health care—through mental health clinics and hospitals, schools, primary care facilities, and telehealth.

Addressing workforce shortages

Wizdom Powell, PhD, director of the Health Disparities Institute and associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on “America’s Mental Health Crisis,” where she shared her research findings and her family’s own experience of being unable to access care during an adolescent’s mental health crisis. Powell, a former APA Minority Fellowship Program fellow, called for several changes to the fragmented mental health care system and urged investments in prevention, including support for social emotional learning curriculum delivery in educational and community-based settings. To increase health equity, policymakers should continue to invest in training programs for students from communities of color and first-generation graduate students, and realign reimbursement models and insurance systems to ensure that paraprofessionals are reimbursed and fully integrated into the mental health care delivery team.

Supporting school mental health

The Senate Finance Committee invited Sharon Hoover, PhD, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health, to testify at its hearing, “Protecting Youth Mental Health: Part II – Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Care.” Hoover urged Congress to refocus the crucial role that schools play in children’s health and well-being to create accessible and equitable systems of care. Shifting the traditional approach in mental health care from crisis care prevention is key, by offering every child in every school the social, emotional, and mental health supports they need to be successful. Hoover called for investments in comprehensive school mental health systems, reflecting partnerships between the education and behavioral health sectors to support a full continuum of mental health supports and services, from promotion to treatment.

Additional recommendations included support for programs that would expand comprehensive mental health in schools, mental health literacy programs, positive school climate, and investments in workforce development and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s Minority Fellowship Program. Recognizing that states have a large impact on children’s access to mental health services, Hoover called on Congress to support student mental health by encouraging all states to cover all medically necessary mental health services, including prevention services, for all Medicaid enrolled students and by ensuring school Medicaid programs have updated guidance, best practices, and the technical assistance they need.

Their testimony echoed that of the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, who testified before the Senate Finance Committee the week before and called for a unified national response to the mental health challenges young people are facing from social isolation, anxiety related to social media, stress, grief, and loss. In additional testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, APA’s Chief Science Officer Mitch Prinstein, PhD, further called for a bold $1 billion investment in children’s mental health research and in new Medicare funding for the training of psychologists.

Moving forward

In his March 1 State of the Union address, President Biden called for bipartisan action to address the nation’s mental health and opioid crisis, including mental health parity enforcement and greater investments in behavioral health professions training and school-based resilience and mental health programs. 

APA voiced strong support for the strategy and will continue to work with Congress and the Biden administration to implement these and other needed policies to address the growing mental health crisis and to ensure psychologists are at the table to continue sharing psychological science and expertise.

To ensure psychological science continues to inform congressional actions on these issues, APA provided additional resources to the committees and the following congressional testimony: