Blumenthal Pushes For Federal Funding For Mental-Health Services

April 16, 2024

This article by Hudson Kamphausen appeared in CT News Junkie on April 16, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal says that fighting suicide and declining mental health for young adults and children will need “probably billions” of dollars.

At a news conference Monday morning, which was held at The Village’s Urgent Crisis Center – which serves as an urgent care for behavioral health services – the senator spoke alongside advocates for children’s mental health in the state, and cited social media and pandemic-borne isolation as some of the main causes for steep increases in suicide rates among young adults.

A “perfect storm” of different factors, including a lack of resources for struggling youth and a stubbornly continuing stigma surrounding receiving mental health services, Blumemthal said, has made suicide amoung younger individuals more common.

“Suicide is occurring more and more with children younger and younger,” he said. “There is no ignoring that children are taking their own lives at an accelerating rate.”

Dr. Laine Taylor, chief medical officer at The Village, said that children are not engaging with one another in the same way, and that they are feeling inferior and isolated because of social media.

“Our children are not playing, they’re watching,” Taylor said.

Watch the WFSB coverage below:

Blumenthal was also joined at the event by the Connecticut Assistant Child Advocate Brendan Burke, who shared some statistics from a recent youth mental health survey in the state.

Those statistics include:

  • 6% of high school students attempted suicide in the last year;
  • 14% said they considered suicide or had suicidal ideations;
  • 36% said they experienced sadness for more than two weeks at one time; and
  • 22% said they received mental health help when they needed it.

Burke said that suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death for individuals aged 10-24, and that the average age of young adult suicide is 15.

“What we’re doing is not currently working,” Burke said. Connecticut also has the 5th lowest rate of suicide amoung children, according to Burke.

Robert Muro, president and CEO of the Connecticut Council of Family Services, said that the numbers surrounding suicide in young adults are “staggering,” but there have been challenges in employing enough qualified professionals.

Blumenthal said that more than be done, and that the current numbers on suicide among young adults is “a searing indictment” on the current system.

“This ‘perfect storm’ is preventable,” he said, “and it shouldn’t happen on our watch.” He said that the decrease in available mental health professionals remains a problem for Connecticut and the nation, and that more professionals in the fields are needed.

The senator added that he has continuing conversations with schools in the state, and that many are “eager” to give students the resources they need.

“A kid who goes to school deeply troubled and sad has nowhere to go,” he said. Blumenthal said that grant money will be available to schools as well to fund hiring more mental health professionals.

Blumenthal is a co-sponsor of the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act, which would direct federal funding toward organizations like The Village and other nonprofits to provide mental health services and evaluations to struggling youth. The legislation also includes provisions for removing harmful objects from children.

The senator said that he is also in favor of a national Ethan’s Law, which would require gun owners to keep their firearms in secure, safe gun storage devices.

Blumenthal is also a sponsor of the Kids Online Safety Act, which would create protections for youth on social media apps, and would require the sites to report possible risks for young adults on their platforms.

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