Reps. Katko & Napolitano Hold Children’s Mental Health Briefing, Kick Off National Mental Health Awareness Month

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. John Katko (R-NY-24) and Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32) co-hosted a bipartisan briefing on the benefits of collaborative care for children’s mental health, kicking off May as National Mental Health Awareness Month.

“I was proud to join my colleague Rep. Napolitano as we continue our efforts to improve access to pediatric mental health care,” said Rep. John Katko. “At home in Central New York, our Mental Health Task Force recently released a comprehensive report detailing the need to improve regional adolescent mental health care.  In Congress, I’ll continue to fight

U.S. Rep. John Katko (NY-24)

for policies to improve early identification of behavioral and mental health issues among children, expand innovative and unique treatment practices, and incentivize healthcare providers to pursue careers in mental health care.  We had an excellent discussion on these issues and I thank our panelists for joining us in the fight to strengthen mental health care across this country.”

“Our fight to end stigma starts with the youngest children in America, so from an early age they understand it is always okay to ask for help,” Rep. Napolitano said. “I am so grateful to Congressman Katko for his partnership and passion, and to all of our panelists for raising their voices on behalf of millions of children and families nationwide. We also thank those who joined us, near and far, for helping reduce stigma and bringing critical awareness for increased collaboration among doctors to effectively address children’s mental health needs. We must continue to coalesce our efforts toward our shared goal of ensuring access and affordability of these services for children from all socioeconomic levels, backgrounds, and ZIP codes.”

Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Yet, there are long delays from the onset of symptoms to intervention. There are also many children, youth and young adults who are unable to access effective services and support.

Panelists at the briefing included Gregory K. Fritz, M.D., Professor and Director of Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry & Vice Chair of the Dept. of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Academic Director of E. P. Bradley Hospital, and President of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP); Lee Beers, M.D., Medical Director for Municipal & Regional Affairs of Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s National Health System, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences; Phoebe Lisle, a youth with lived experience; and Kit Lisle, father of Phoebe and producer for This is My Brave. They examined the lack of access to specialized care many young children and adolescents experience when living with mental illness and highlighted ways to address those gaps through collaborative care.

“Integrated care is the single most powerful force we have to change and improve the mental health of children in the United States,” said Dr. Fritz. “Our biggest obstacle is lack of information and education. A day like today which brings together a diverse group of people, like advocates, families, and staffers can do a lot for integrated care. I wish it happened every week.”

“Involving pediatricians in mental health services to increase access for children and families really has the potential to have enormous impact but doesn’t yet have the support and infrastructure behind it to be fully implemented across the country,” said Dr. Beers. “This type of briefing helps raise awareness and support for services, and bring attention to a very important and needed issue as well as the value of the collaboration between pediatricians and mental health providers in improving care for children and families.

“My daughter Phoebe is fortunate enough to have a primary care physician and a number of specialists who are collaborating, coordinating, and integrating their care, but we haven’t always had that,” said Kit Lisle. “We have that today because we are paying for it out of pocket, paying for them to spend the time communicating. This is not right. Not everybody has access to the funds to make sure their specialists and primary care physicians are actually coordinating with one another. We are sharing our personal story in the hopes it will bring needed reform.”

“I just want every young person like me to be able to have the same resources and care that I continue to receive,” said Phoebe Lisle. “There shouldn’t be a gap between insurance-funded and privately-funded doctors. All children in need must have the same coverage available to them, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay for those costs.”

The briefing was attended by more than 60 mental health advocates and congressional staff. A recording of the livestreamed video can be viewed here.

Since 1949, May has been observed as National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when advocates and activists across the country draw attention to the mental health issues that affect as many as one in four Americans.

In Central New York, Rep. John Katko has focused extensively on improving access to pediatric mental health care.  Earlier this year, he joined Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli in releasing a bipartisan Task Force report outlining the largest gaps in youth behavioral and mental health services in Central New York.  The report provided recommendations to improve access to care. The full Task Force report can be accessed here.