BOSTON — A tidal wave of behavioral health issues among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Congress to reinvigorate suicide prevention programs targeting teens.
A bipartisan proposal co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Lori Trahan, D-Westford, would reauthorize programs established under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which support community-based suicide prevention efforts among youth and young adults. The programs are due to expire at the end of September.
“The youth mental health crisis has only been compounded by the challenges of the pandemic,” Trahan said. “We have an obligation to respond to this moment of emergency with the comprehensive solutions and resources our children need.”
The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, approved by Congress in 2004, is named for the son of former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, who died by suicide in 2004. The law was last authorized by Congress in 2015.
While children have been spared the worst health effects of the COVID-19 outbreak over the past two years, their mental health was a much different story.
Lockdowns, school closures and restrictions on social gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus, coupled with a lack of access to in-person services, have exacerbated a mental health treatment gap for children, experts say medical. Low-income and minority children have been disproportionately affected.
Last year, a coalition of health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issued a dire warning that the crisis in youth mental health has become an “emergency national”.
In Massachusetts, a shortage of staff and beds in mental health units means young people often end up “boarding” emergency rooms while waiting for services.
As of Friday, there were at least 224 pediatric patients waiting for beds in psychiatric facilities across the state, according to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association’s weekly report. This is the highest number of pediatric patients since the association began reporting boarding numbers in October.
While state health officials reported an increase in suicidal ideation and attempts, the number of youth suicides declined between 2019 and 2020, according to the latest data from the US Department of Public Health. State.
In 2020, 615 suicides were reported in Massachusetts, down 4% from 2019, according to the agency. Suicide among young people aged 15 to 24 has fallen by around 3%, the agency said. But suicides among young Asians and Latinos increased between 2019 and 2020, the agency reported.
U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, D-Salem, who introduced the bill to designate 988 as a Lifeline number in 2020, says it will help eliminate stigma, improve mental health care and save lives by connecting people in crisis to services.
Moulton joined other House lawmakers on a bill to fund the new suicide prevention hotline, which is pending before Congress.
“We’ve long awaited to provide this service to Americans looking for a reliable, free place to turn during mental health emergencies,” Moulton said in a statement.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.