NEWS

Biden Administration Announces $85 Million in Funding for Children’s Mental Health

Family sitting in a living room talking to a therapist

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Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $10.7 million as part of the American Rescue Plan for the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded $74.2 million to improve services for youth mental health across the country.
  • This additional funding is a positive step towards addressing stigma and increasing access to mental health support.

Many parents are concerned about the mental health of their children at this time. President Biden’s recent announcement of $10.7 million from HHS and $74.2 million from SAMHSA bodes well for addressing these needs.

While government officials have long discussed children’s mental health, this $85 million in funding demonstrates that commitment. The HHS awards will integrate mental health services into pediatric primary care, while the SAMHSA funding will train school personnel to support youth.

American Rescue Plan for Pediatric Mental Health Care Access

The HHS funding is part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and will expand the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program to 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa Indians.

With awards of at least $440,000, this funding can do a great deal to address children’s mental health inequities. For example, the Chickasaw Nation (CN) Pediatric Mental Health Care Access (PMHCA) Project will be focused on meeting the needs of children ages 17 and younger in 13 counties by increasing access to culturally competent mental health support.

Elizabeth Senerchia, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) spokesperson, says, “The Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program addresses racial, ethnic and geographic disparities in pediatric behavioral health care. Funds support providers in underserved areas by increasing access to mental and behavioral health services by phone or through telehealth.”

Elizabeth Senerchia, HRSA spokesperson

In 2020, approximately 2,000 children and adolescents living in rural and underserved counties were served by pediatric primary care providers who contacted the pediatric mental health team.

— Elizabeth Senerchia, HRSA spokesperson

Senerchia explains how the program funds statewide networks of mental and behavioral health care teams who can provide quick responses by phone or telehealth consultations to pediatric providers. The hope is to address immediate mental and behavioral health concerns by identifying, diagnosing, treating, and referring children with behavioral health conditions, and helping families, including those living in underserved areas, to access pediatric mental health care providers.

These service networks allow families who otherwise would not have access to behavioral and mental health care services to receive that care. Senerchia says, “In 2020, approximately 2,000 children and adolescents living in rural and underserved counties were served by pediatric primary care providers who contacted the pediatric mental health team.”

Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education

The SAMHSA funding will go towards Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) State Education Agency grants to improve awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth. A total of 17 awards were granted, with recipients including two Native American tribes.

With funding ranging from $1,688,055 to $5,335,636, recipients will be able to invest in training school personnel to better meet the mental health needs of their youth. Some grant awardees include state departments of education, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Major Hurdles of Stigma and Access

Psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, says, “Stigma and lack of access are two major hurdles to seeking mental health care. The recently announced $85 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for youth mental health awareness, training and treatment is a positive step towards addressing both of these barriers.”

Especially given how much time youth spend in school, and how that may impact mental health, Patel-Dunn finds it encouraging to see grants dedicated to training staff in school environments to identify at-risk students. “Starting the conversation about mental health early has the potential to significantly impact how younger generations view and understand mental health,” she says.

Stigma can often serve as a barrier to seeking mental health support, which can have extremely detrimental repercussions. It is why Patel-Dunn says, “Overall, I see this as a positive step forward in terms of contributing to the destigmatization of mental health care and ensuring that youth mental health is prioritized on par with their physical health.”

Patel-Dunn highlights how the ongoing pandemic has had a significant impact on youth mental health, as adolescents missed out on more than a year of socializing at a time of pivotal developmental importance, which has mental health consequences. “During the pandemic, pediatric suicidal thinking and behavior increased by 25% or more, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s clear we need to invest resources into ensuring youth have the tools they need to address their mental health,” she says.

It is important to note how different individuals cope with challenges. Patel Dunn says, “Children may be more likely to struggle with the lack of in-person social interaction and resulting feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic. Couple this with increased screen time and the increased demands on parents who are juggling professional responsibilities and navigating virtual schooling, and it can create a very stressful situation.”

Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO

During the pandemic, pediatric suicidal thinking and behavior increased by 25% or more, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s clear we need to invest resources into ensuring youth have the tools they need to address their mental health.

— Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO

As an example, Patel-Dunn explains how young children may not fully understand why they cannot play at the playground or share toys with their friends like they normally would, and this unexplained change can contribute to feelings of confusion, stress, and uncertainty. “As kids head back to the classroom this fall, they may now be dealing with untreated anxiety and stress that could be compounded by the change in routine as they readjust to being in school for long periods of time,” she says.

What This Means For You

This additional funding has the potential to expand services to support the mental health needs of children and youth following the impacts of the pandemic. With its focus on improving mental health access at the level of pediatric primary care and with school personnel, this funding can have a great deal of impact. It is why Patel-Dunn says, “I see any initiatives that are designed to help people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives while unifying mental and physical healthcare as a win.”

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  1. Hill RM, Rufino K, Kurian S, Saxena J, Saxena K, Williams L. Suicide ideation and attempts in a pediatric emergency department before and during COVID-19. Pediatrics. 2021;147(3):e2020029280. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-029280