<< Back

State Legislature to Address Children’s Mental Health Services in 2022

December 01, 2021

Healthcare providers across the state have reported large increases in patients who report having mental health issues ranging from depression and anxiety to eating disorders to suicidal thoughts. No group, they say, is more affected than children. Emergency rooms are reporting double-digit increases in the number of children with mental health or behavioral issues. Nationally, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, between April and October of 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in mental health emergency room visits for children ages 5 to 11 compared to the same period in 2019. With these alarming numbers, Connecticut lawmakers recently hosted forums with behavioral health professionals, state agencies and child experts to discuss what is happening and where improvements need to be made. "This is a proactive step. No child should have to be in crisis to access help,” said Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Chair of Psychiatry at Hartford HealthCare’s Institute of Living and Chief of Psychiatry at Hartford Hospital. “Early intervention is so important in mental health, yet we have designed systems a bit backward. This is an opportunity for us to change things,” Dr. Sukhera said. “Working together, we can create a coordinated behavioral health system that centers on those we serve. This requires that we engage patients and caregivers early in the process so that we not only amplify their voices, but allow them to help us co-design initiatives. People with experience in mental health can help us create a better system of care that provides people the right treatment, at the right place and at the right time.” The co-chairs of the Children’s Committee, Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, and Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said they are considering legislation that would increase the number of training programs for social workers and psychiatrists, looking at intermediate and long-term plans to ensure psychiatrists are paid fairly and considering how to improve reimbursement rates, according to a report on NPR. They will also look at the connectivity between pediatricians' offices and mental health providers, as well as ways to improve Access Mental Health, a referral program pediatricians can use if they are presented with a child showing mental health symptoms that they do not feel they have the specialty to handle. The Connecticut Hospital Association has been working with legislators on measures that would expand outpatient services in communities and resources in schools to help prevent the need for a visit to the emergency department or so that they can continue receiving the proper level of care once they are discharged.