Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, led by Co-Chairs John Katko (R-NY-24) and Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32), in conjunction with leading mental health organizations, held a bipartisan briefing on childhood depression and the importance of identifying and treating problems early in life.
“We are erasing stigma one briefing at a time, but this fight goes far beyond the halls of Congress,” said Co-Chairs Katko and Napolitano. “Mental health continues to draw more national attention, yet it remains severely underfunded and misunderstood. We need greater investment at all stages of life, especially early on. Every child in America, regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status, must be provided the services he or she needs. We thank all presenters, attendees, and the partnering organizations who participated in the discussion and for their ongoing efforts to promote children’s mental wellness.”
Panelists at the briefing included Dr. Gary Blau, Chief of Child, Adolescent and Family Branch at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Dr. Tami Benton, Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Chair of Psychiatry at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP); Dr. William Arroyo, Medical Director of the Children’s System of Care of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; Harley Smith, a youth with lived experience; and Laura May, mother of Harley. They shared about their personal experiences, emphasized the benefits of early identification and treatment of childhood depression, and highlighted efforts to expand services on the national and local levels.
“My depression didn’t go away, but with support, I am able to manage life and enjoy it,” said Harley Smith.
“I cannot imagine going through all the struggles we did with my daughter, only to walk away and leave others to struggle through their journey alone.” said Laura May.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds, the majority of whom suffer from depression, a treatable condition. Estimates through 2016 suggest that 3.1 million adolescents ages 12-17 years have been affected by depression, however, 60% have not received treatment,” said Dr. Benton. “Early recognition and intervention are key to successful treatment of child and adolescent depression. We can decrease the stigma of mental health conditions and increase access to care by treating young people where they are seeking support—from schools and their primary care providers.
“SAMHSA greatly appreciates the efforts of the Mental Health Caucus and their partners to shine a spotlight on the importance of ‘Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health.’” said Dr. Blau. “I was pleased to share SAMHSA’s efforts to advance initiatives that align with the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee’s recommendations related to children and youth with serious emotional disturbances.”
“Raising public awareness as to the importance of early intervention for mental health problems in young people is critical to their success later in life,” said Dr. Arroyo. “Providing mental health services in stigma-free environments, e.g., schools, is essential to the well-being of youth.”
Jill Diamond, Multiple Emmy Winner and International Chair of World Boxing Cares, the non-profit organization that connects boxing personalities and world champions with those in need throughout the world, was a special guest at the briefing. She presented Congresswoman Napolitano with a boxing belt as a long-time stigma fighter.
“Battling for those who have no voice, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano is the World Boxing Council’s Champion of the World, in all divisions,” said Ms. Diamond. “We love fighters, and Grace is a warrior.”
NAMI, the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, the American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and Mental Health America co-hosted the briefing and panel discussion. A recording of the livestreamed video can be viewed here.
Yesterday, Napolitano and Katko also introduced H.Res.883, recognizing May as National Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Mental health affects the well-being of communities in every congressional district across the country, but many areas lack adequate resources to treat those in need,” added Katko and Napolitano. “We invite our colleagues to work with us to raise awareness and reduce stigma this May, so we can provide our constituents with the support and services they need to thrive.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For the Congressional May Mental Health Awareness Month calendar, visit https://napolitano.house.gov/issues/may-mental-health-awareness-month