“Teens are talking and we need you to listen.”

Seventeen-year-old mental health advocate Trace Terrell called on Congress to create a national peer-to-peer teen crisis line during First Focus on Children’s inaugural Kids and Covid Conversation today, which examined — and proposed solutions for — the mental health crisis afflicting the country’s children and young people.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated fissures in the mental health of our nation’s youth. Mental health emergencies among U.S. teens jumped 31% in 2020, and suicide now ranks 5th among the top 15 causes of death in children. More than 243,000 U.S. children are grieving the loss of a caregiver due to COVID. Yet almost none of the nation’s schools have the recommended number of mental health professionals serving in them.A

Terrell and his fellow panelists strongly recommended bringing services to where the children are — schools, pediatrician’s offices, child care centers — and offered additional remedies:

  • Miriam Calderón (Zero To Three): Recognize that babies and toddlers experience mental health challenges and develop the workforce to serve them and other children and youth. Uplift programs that improve the physical and mental well-being of all children, like the Child Tax Credit, early learning, and child care programs.
  • Dr. Sharon Hoover, PhD. (University of Maryland School of Medicine): Strengthen the role of schools in mental health promotion, prevention and intervention. Research has shown that youth are six times more likely to initiate and complete mental health treatment in schools than in community settings. “Every adult in the school building and every peer in the building plays a role in mental health,” she said.
  • Scott Hutchins (Michigan Department of Education): Increase the number of mental health professionals in schools and integrate the program with existing systems — such as Medicaid — to make them reimbursable and sustainable. Michigan began building its school-based mental health services with a $30 million investment in FY 2019 — just $20 per student. This year, the $300+ million effort has more than 1,400 service providers in schools across the state.

In addition, the session was opened by U.S. Senator Tina Smith, a Champion for Children and a longtime advocate for youth mental health who has introduced legislation to tackle this problem specifically in schools.

See below for important resources mentioned during the session:

This session was a part of a comprehensive series of conversations throughout the months of March and April 2022. We will continue to hear from experts, advocates, and policy leaders to discuss all of the ways this crisis has impacted the lives of children — from education and juvenile justice, housing to child poverty, nutrition, and global health — and we welcome you to join us for these live, interactive conversations. Click here to register.