By Vignesh Subramanian and State Senator Will Haskell
Editor’s note: Wilton High School graduate Vignesh Subramanian (Class of 2020) now studies biology, health and wellness at Stony Brook University. He and State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) have collaborated to improve access to mental healthcare for children and teens. They’re advocating for a key provision to be added to Senate Bill 2, “An Act Concerning Social Equity and the Health, Safety and Education of Children,” that was proposed during the current legislative session. S.B 2 was most recently favorably reported out of the Committee on Appropriations just this week and the Committee on Children (where it was initially introduced) in March. The bill has now been tabled for the calendar for a full chamber Senate vote possibly later this week. Supporters say it looks very likely to pass before the session ends on June 9.
The children’s mental health crisis isn’t going anywhere. Suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, and despite 80% of chronic mental health disorders beginning in childhood, only 20% of afflicted children receive care from specialized providers, and even fewer receive follow-up care.
Unfortunately, much of that uptick results from an incompatibility between our schools and our mental healthcare systems.
Together, we’ve worked to fight for a solution. As a recent graduate of Wilton High School and a legislator representing seven public high schools, we have personally seen the limitations of mental healthcare access in our local schools. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has merely shone a spotlight on systemic faults. Workload-related pressures compounded by lack of social interaction have exacerbated underlying stresses among students; quarantines have sharpened concern about unaddressed anxiety- and depression-associated psychiatric disorders. Many of our own former peers, unable to escape family and home for extended periods, have lost access to safeguards at school and in public.
That is why we worked to incorporate a key provision into Senate Bill No. 2, which addresses gaps in the care pathway. This bill would expand minors’ access to outpatient mental healthcare by removing the cap on the number of counseling sessions they may seek without parental consent, allowing children to maintain their privacy while taking advantage of therapy services.
Access to outpatient mental healthcare is particularly crucial in cases where parents may obstruct outreach to practitioners or where informing parents may worsen contributing factors. Some parents may outright reject the notion of their child speaking to mental health professionals over concern about stigma or the effects of prescribed medication. Patterns of abuse and contention over sexual orientation in the household can also incentivize children to look beyond immediate caregivers for models of support and security. Expanding access to counseling sessions without parental consent is a common-sense step towards helping adolescents in difficult home situations.
Vulnerable children utilizing therapy generally require more than six sessions—the current cap—to meet their goals, and the overwhelming majority of outpatient care authorizations for minors explicitly pertains to mental health. Allowing minors to seek an unlimited number of outpatient counseling sessions would align ease of access with these clinical realities while keeping parents conditionally informed of developments in diagnoses, recommendations, and treatment plans.
To the youth who have exhausted all options in reaching out for support, the gift of access—of just one more option—can make all the difference. We are so grateful for the leadership of Sen. Saud Anwar in fighting for this bill and including this idea in the final proposal. By taking up SB 2, we are confident that the legislature will save lives.
Well done – this deserves to be passed by the entire Legislature!
Comments are closed.