Senator Murray: “As a mom and a grandma, it breaks my heart to know so many kids are shouldering so much stress, anxiety, trauma, and more—which is why, as a Senator, I am working hard every day to get our kids the support and the care they need to heal.”
***WATCH: Senator Murray, Surgeon General Murthy Discuss Youth Mental Health Crisis***
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy for a roundtable with a youth mental health advocate and a mental health expert from Washington state to discuss the dire mental health crisis affecting young people across our country—and her work in the Senate on a bipartisan package to address the crisis and get kids the support they need. During the roundtable, Senator Murray and Dr. Murthy heard directly from Elizabeth Ashley Dawson, a 15-year-old mental health advocate from Washington state, and Dr. Chris Ladish, the Chief Clinical Officer of Pediatric Behavioral Health for Mary Bridge Children’s and MultiCare Behavioral Health Network in Tacoma, about how the mental health crisis is affecting young people in Washington state.
“This pandemic has been hard on everyone but it’s been especially disruptive for children and youth. I’ve heard from so many parents who are concerned about this—and with good reason—and from so many kids who have just had their lives turned upside down,” said Senator Murray. “As a mom and a grandma, it breaks my heart to know so many kids are shouldering so much stress, anxiety, trauma, and more—which is why, as a Senator, I am working hard every day to get our kids the support and the care they need to heal.”
“And I am working right now on a bipartisan mental health package, where I am pushing to strengthen federal programs that support youth mental health services, improve suicide screening and prevention to save lives, make it easier for people to get mental health care, and more,” added Senator Murray.
During the conversation, Senator Murray highlighted how critical resources that she helped secure in the American Rescue Plan are going to Washington state K-12 public schools and can be used to meet students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs. She also highlighted the much-needed boosts she secured for our nation’s mental health and substance use disorder services in the latest bill to fund the government, which will help bolster the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and improve access to mental health care. But she made clear that more work is urgently needed, with new CDC data showing that nearly half of all youth nationwide have felt persistently sad and hopeless throughout the pandemic—and this crisis has been particularly severe for young girls and LGBTQ+ youth.
Senator Murray is working in the Senate to address this crisis and is currently making progress on a bipartisan mental health and substance use disorder package to strengthen mental health services for children and youth, continue improving suicide screening and prevention to save lives, make it easier for people to get mental health care, and much more.
“The youth mental health crisis is an issue that fundamentally affects the most important sector of our society – our children. It’s for this reason that in December of last year, I issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on Youth Mental Health to call our country to attention to address this urgent crisis. The advisory includes recommendations not only for government and the health care sectors, but also for individuals, communities, educational institutions, and other organizations,” said Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “We have a lot of work to do, but I have never been more hopeful that we can accomplish it because of the greater awareness in the public about this issue, because of how many parents are getting involved in these conversations, and because of legislators like Senator Murray who are recognizing that we cannot let this moment pass without taking decisive, clear action.”
“I would never have guessed that I would ever have needed a counselor until I got offered one. Starting in mid-July 2017, I finally started to acknowledge the hidden trauma that I had dismissed. I have learned how to truly feel emotions rather than coping by hiding them or passing them off as jokes,” said Elizabeth Ashley Dawson, a sophomore and mental health advocate at Rainier Beach High School. “I’ve learned that every bad thing comes with the good—honestly, that’s what stuck with me. I am grateful for my counselor being part of my support system. Through this tough time, as I recover and finally get to the first steps of helping my community of unaccompanied minors, I have learned how to be independent and help other kids that are in the same situation as I am so that they will have the ability to receive the help they need and deserve.
“Mental health is no joke,” added Dawson. “Hopefully my story inspires and motivates people who need it. It would be great if you would support mental health services to help youth like me.”
“Children, of course, have returned to onsite school but we continue to see the devastating impacts that the pandemic has had on our youth in the form of prolonged virtual learning, severe isolation, social unrest, and multiple losses that kids are experiencing. I believe we're just now starting to look at the tip of the iceberg—you know, at Mary Bridge where I work, as much as 50% of our bed capacity in the emergency room can be filled with a child that’s struggling with a mental health crisis at any one point in time,” said Dr. Chris Ladish. “Many of the children that are staying the longest in our emergency rooms are children that are on the autism spectrum and children that have intellectual disabilities, for whom there really is no quick and easy option for where they would be placed. So I really want to underscore that while we’re doing a lot of work, we have more work to do.”