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Promoting Children’s Mental Health

   
Our current health care system does not meet the needs of children with mental health disorders. Although 1 in 5 children in the United States suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder, only 21% of affected children actually receive needed treatment. Mental illness is like any other disease; the earlier it is identified and treated, the better the health outcomes.

The AAP has been advocating that Congress to promote children’s mental health by adopting policies that will develop a robust workforce of child and adolescent mental health specialists, facilitate the ability of primary care pediatricians to provide early identification and treatment for children with mental health disorders, and improve school-based mental health services and supports.

The AAP approaches mental health as a component of overall health, and has long-standing support for federal mental health parity, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. In addition, as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, AAP continues to ensure that the law includes a robust mental and behavioral health benefits package as well as protections for cost-sharing and network adequacy for mental health services.

On June 3, 2013, the AAP joined the White House in a National Mental Health Dialogue. AAP Immediate Past President Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP, and AAP President-Elect James Perrin, MD, FAAP, were invited to participate in a White House Conference on Mental Health. At the Conference, Drs Block and Perrin joined President Obama, Vice President Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other mental health advocates, medical professionals, and community leaders for a day-long conference to discuss ways to destigmatize mental health conditions and address mental health needs of various populations, including children.

Mental Health Legislation: Where AAP Stands

In the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the Administration and Congress are looking for ways to improve our nation’s mental health system. Exposure to violence causes toxic stress in childhood, which can have long-term negative effects on children. Managing adult mental health disorders begins with ensuring that children have access to quality mental health services.

To date, the AAP has endorsed the following proposals:

  • The Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013, introduced in the Senate by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and in the House by Representative Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.). The Mental Health in Schools Act advances the work of the Safe Schools-Healthy Students program in order to provide access to more comprehensive school-based mental health services and supports. The bill would require that programs funded under this section assist children in dealing with trauma and violence, an important component to building children’s resiliency against toxic stress.
  • The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S. 689), introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention and early identification of mental health conditions. The legislation also promotes linkages to appropriate services for children and youth. In addition to the AAP’s own endorsement letter, the Academy led a group letter urging passage of this legislation.
  • The Academy signed onto a letter requesting Congress to appropriate $5 million for the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program. Adequate funding for this program will help address the shortage of mental health providers like developmental pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, and child and adolescent psychiatrists.
  • The Academy joined the Mental Health Liaison Group in endorsing H.R. 2734, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2013. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004, authorizes grant money to states, Indian tribes, colleges and universities to develop suicide prevention and intervention programs. Reauthorization of the GLSMA would continue commitment to important youth and college suicide prevention programs.
  • AAP's Sept. 2013 response to the Senate Finance Committee outlining recommendations on how to best address the mental health needs of children and adolescents
  • AAP's Sept. 2013 response to the Senate Finance Committee outlining recommendations on how to best address the mental health needs of children and adolescents
  • A letter to the Senate Finance Committee outlining recommendations on how to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents signed by AAP and more than 30 other organizations. 
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