Posted: September 30, 2022
Children have returned to the classrooms, but the effects of the pandemic’s mental health crisis still linger. To help educators, counselors and others address students’ needs, Let's Talk Interactive, Inc. (LTI), a leader in customizable telehealth solutions, The Hargan Group, and the American Telemedicine Association brought together an expert panel on student mental health.
The webinar features the following panelists:
The Honorable Eric Hargan, Former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018-2021; Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017.
Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, former Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017-2021.
Elliott Vice, Director of Health Policy & Government Regulations, Faegre Drinker, Policy Advisor for American Telemedicine Association
Ms. Kathy Ireland, internationally known advocate for addressing the needs of women and children.
Arthur Cooksey, CEO of Let’s Talk Interactive, moderated the discussion.
The speakers provided a detailed assessment of the state of children’s mental health before and after the pandemic, and outlined measures such as telemedicine technology, which can provide better mental health care to children regardless of their location or access to healthcare facilities.
“The importance of resources like telehealth is underscored by concerns with the mental health crisis that has endured in our nation post-pandemic,” Cooksey said. He noted a Centers for Disease Control study of over 7,700 adolescents showed high rates of mental health problems during the pandemic: 44% of young people reported feeling sad and hopeless, while 20% considered suicide and 9% actually made a suicide attempt.
Secretary Hargan gave an overview of how leaders viewed this problem and the steps taken to address the mental health crisis during the pandemic. “We knew very early in the pandemic that the restrictions that were taken to mitigate the spread of the disease, its morbidity and mentality, were going to take a toll on the mental health of Americans,” he said. “The group that has suffered the most, in many ways, is our children.”
He noted the role telemedicine technology played during the pandemic in linking people to care they could not have accessed otherwise because of limited ability for face-to-face visits. The government took steps to improve telehealth access, such as rules allowing people to use Zoom and other video meeting systems for healthcare and allowing government programs to more broadly reimburse providers for telehealth services. That created a “huge uplift in the use of telehealth technology, by a factor of thousands,” he said. “There was an explosion in the use of telehealth across a broad variety of medical areas, and one of the most significant was mental health and substance abuse care.”
Dr. McCance-Katz agreed, saying, “Telehealth was a critically important move forward in behavioral healthcare during the pandemic.”
She reviewed the results of several studies that showed the decline in mental health among young people during the pandemic:
More than one-third (37%) of adolescents experienced poor mental health.
A 31% increase in emergency room visits for mental health crises in children ages 12-17.
A nearly 51% increase in suicide attempts in girls ages 12 to 17.
A 10% increase in suicide deaths in people ages 10-19.
A 94% increase in drug overdose deaths in people ages 14-18 driven by fentanyl-containing drugs.
Dr. McCance-Katz also reviewed several new and continuing resources to support mental health, such as the new 988 number for seeking help in a mental health crisis; findtreatment.gov, which directs people to care providers for substance use disorders, addiction, and mental illness; Mental Health First Aid and similar programs that train students, parents, teachers and school officials on how to recognize and assist someone who is having a mental health crisis; and the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) program, which offers integrated mental health, substance abuse and physical health treatment services in one integrated setting for children and adults.
“These resources help to keep people out of the emergency departments and in the mental health treatment system that can better meet their needs,” Dr. McCance-Katz said.
American Telemedicine Association Policy Advisor Elliot Vice reviewed steps that the association is taking to increase support for telemedicine via federal and state policies, such as preserving changes to Medicaid that have greatly increased access to care. “We’re reaching underserved populations that were not previously accessible to us and that’s a huge deal,” he said.
The association’s goal is a future where telehealth plays an essential role in improving the health of Americans. “We believe telehealth is part of an integrated healthcare delivery system,” he said. “We’re not saying telehealth is better, we’re not saying it’s worse; we’re saying it’s part of healthcare.”
Kathy Ireland, creator of kathy ireland Worldwide, one of the world’s most recognized brands, an active member of many nonprofit organizations’ boards, and an international advocate for human rights and better mental and emotional health, provided her perspective on mental and emotional health in adolescents.
Drawing upon her work and experience, she cited the range of challenges that have assailed young people lately: isolation from COVID-19, political and cultural unrest, bullying, social media, and the pervasiveness of substance abuse.
“We’re in the midst of the greatest crisis that young people of every generation have ever endured in American history,” she said. “I can’t think of a more difficult time to be a young person.”
She cited an upcoming documentary, “Anxious Nation,” created by best-selling author Laura Morton and directed by Academy Award winner Vanessa Roth, that examines the mental health crisis among young people. It notes the importance of candid conversation between parents and their children and of connecting people with support for their mental health.
Ireland, also a board member of LTI, praised the company’s work to get telehealth technology into schools and connect young people with mental health care providers. “I love the history of LTI and I love how there’s been such a concerted effort to get this into the schools so kids have a safe place to be connected to have the care that they truly need,” she said. “I believe in it and I believe in the results.”
With educational facilities in search of solutions to help provide students with the mental health assistance they need in an expedient manner, this joint webinar and resource page is designed to assist educators and administrators in that quest.
Telemedicine technology such as that developed by LTI increases the breadth and immediacy of access to mental health care by providing an audio-visual platform for care providers in any setting to deliver medical and behavioral health care friendly to both practitioners and patients. Virtual appointments can encourage people to get care when they are reluctant to have in-person meetings or see a perceived stigma of going to a physical office.