Tennessee lawmakers should increase child mental health resources
- Dr. Ellen McMahon, MD is a general pediatrician at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt and a Master of Public Health candidate at Vanderbilt University.
It’s my first day at the clinic after graduating from residency, and I’m excited to make an impact as a full-fledged pediatrician.
My first patient has an oddly familiar story; he is 10 years old, he loved playing sports with his friends, but he feels nervous and cannot name something he is looking forward to in the near future.
Another patient is hopelessly similar; his grandmother died of COVID-19 several months ago and he constantly wakes up every night after dreaming that his other loved ones met similar fates.
As an early-career pediatrician, I’m no stranger to the heartbreaking situation of a child telling me they feel hopeless about their future. Since COVID-19 became our new reality, I’ve seen the number of teens describing symptoms of depression triple the number of mental health diagnoses I typically make in an average week.
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Tennessee kids need more mental health resources
This worries me not only as a pediatrician but also as a mother.
Numerous public health studies have demonstrated a sharp increase in the volume of mental health diagnoses among children across the country since the start of the pandemic, even as their medical health needs stagnate.
This indicates that our state legislators must take action by expanding the extremely limited behavioral and mental resources for children living in Tennessee.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are well known to be a risk factor for childhood depression and anxiety, which includes any traumatic childhood event.
Witnessing serious illness or feeling isolated due to the pandemic also falls under this definition. Studies done at Vanderbilt show that children from ethnic minorities and lower socioeconomic status are at higher risk of experiencing ACEs and are therefore at higher risk of developing a mental health diagnosis.
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Increase resources for Tennessians living near or below the poverty line
Despite this clear need for mental health services, the availability of these resources is extremely limited. Accessibility is lowest for children who need it most. As COVID-19 has shifted many health care resources to virtual services, children with the highest rates of mental health disorders are often unable to seek treatment due to lack of access to technology. necessary.
It is critical that our government close this critical gap and redirect funds toward increased access to mental health resources for children who live near or below the poverty line in the state of Tennessee. Tennessee lawmakers can consider several options.
For example, in August of this year, Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania introduced two bills aimed at improving mental health services for children in their respective states.
The Children’s Mental Health Infrastructure Act and Helping Kids Cope Act financially support pediatric behavioral health care initiatives in outpatient and inpatient settings, as well as school partnerships and community programs, including community health workers who coordinate the access to services such as telehealth treatment.
Introducing similar measures in Tennessee would require government funding and priorities. While acknowledging the potential challenges, these measures are essential to ensuring a safe and healthy future for our children.
As a parent, pediatrician, and proud Tennessean, I encourage Governor Lee, Senator Blackburn, Senator Hagerty, and our state representatives to champion a similar legislature aimed at increasing access to mental health services. for children from low-income households.
Only by providing prompt and efficient services to our children can we ensure a bright future in Tennessee.
Dr. Ellen McMahon, MD is a general pediatrician at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt and a Master of Public Health candidate at Vanderbilt University.