As the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic begin to be better understood, Representative Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation to address the unique educational challenges generated by the pandemic.
The bill (2023-H 5010) would provide that services provided by school social workers and certified school psychologists would be included as health-related services eligible for federal Medicaid reimbursement.
“We are just beginning to understand how the pandemic has affected our children’s mental health,” said McNamara, who chairs the House Education Committee. “Mental health conditions can affect academic performance, increase family court involvement, cause family divisions and increase the risk of suicide. Any help our communities can get to ensure the presence of these mental health professionals and the essential services they provide would be a huge boon to Rhode Island families.”
According to the 2022 Rhode Island Kids Count Fact Book, there has been an increase in anxiety and depression among youth, especially among children of color and LGBTQ youth since 2020.
In 2019, 15% of high school students in Rhode Island reported attempting suicide one or more times during the past year. In Rhode Island, between 2016 and 2020, there were 2,356 emergency room visits and 1,236 hospitalizations of 13- to 19-year-olds due to suicide, and 13 15- to 19-year-olds died due to suicide.
An estimated 13.7 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or behavioral health disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, behavioral health disorders can prevent children from developing coping skills and resilience — skills needed to help them learn, behave, or deal with their emotions. These skills are essential for healthy social development and help ensure that children enjoy a positive quality of life now and in adulthood.
Studies have shown that children spend approximately 49% of their days in a school setting and are six times more likely to receive evidence-based treatment when offered in schools than in other community settings. By linking programs and supports that promote a comprehensive school mental health system, states can not only reduce the number of children with anxiety, depression, and behavioral health disorders, but also save a considerable amount in economic costs.