Children's Mental Health Should Be a Focus during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 7, 2021

May 7th Is Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

Studies are increasingly showing that the COVID-19 pandemic is greatly impacting children and young adults. Children's and adolescents' routines have been disrupted, school could be changing for them from rotating between attending in-person and virtually and being isolated from family and friends. They could also be experiencing disappointment or grief about missing important milestones or the loss of loved ones. These feelings could persist and become more intense as the pandemic continues. As a result, the number of children and teenagers seeking help for anxiety and depression is increasing.

New Jersey recently passed legislation that requires private insurers, the State Health Benefit Plan and School Employees' Health Benefits Program to put policies and procedures into place to ensure that mental health screenings of major depressive disorder for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 are covered. Coverage will be provided to the same extent as for any other condition within each policy or contract. Under this legislation, insurers may not enforce any form of cost sharing, including copayments, deductibles and coinsurance on individuals who are covered who receive major depressive disorder screenings. This will help children who are exhibiting symptoms of depression or other mental illness to receive early diagnoses and care that they need. Early intervention and diagnosis are critical for receiving appropriate and effective treatment. This is especially important for ensuring that mental health screenings are available to all people without limitations due to financial challenges. Governor Phil Murphy signed this legislation in the beginning of May, which is National Mental Health Month and includes Children's Mental Health Day on May 7th.

"If a child experiences mental illness, it could impact their behavior. If the issues and impact on children's mental health are not addressed early, they could result in significant problems later in life. Brief or fleeting episodes of anxiety, sadness, or depression can become more severe. Some warning signs include withdrawal from family and friends; an abrupt change in appetite, disinterest in hobbies, extreme self-judgement and significant changes in sleeping habits. Depression screenings are effective in identifying mental health issues at an early stage and can lead to treatment plans that will help individuals lead healthy lives," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA)

Children's Mental Health Day shines a spotlight on the importance of providing mental health services to ensure positive mental health for children to support healthy development. It also increases public awareness about the needs of children with mental illness and their families, and encourages them to get treatment. Children's Mental Health Day's theme is reflection, reconnection and renewal. This encourages reflection on the unique challenges that children have faced this past year and the ways that providers and systems of care could better meet needs going forward. It also offers a chance to reconnect children and families to community supports and providers who can serve them. Finally, this day allows for a renewed commitment to ensuring equitable mental health services for the future.

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