Editorial: Assembly giving mental health the attention it deserves

The legislative chamber at the General Assembly in Hartford.

The legislative chamber at the General Assembly in Hartford.

Jessica Hill, FRE / Associated Press

The Connecticut General Assembly’s 2023 session has different interests pulling in a number of directions, but atop the list of priorities is the well-being of children. It’s a worthy cause, and one that many members can get behind. That doesn’t mean there is always agreement.

Anyone who has spent time around children knows that current talk of a mental health crisis is if anything understating the problem. Whether it’s pandemic related or something that goes back further, the number of children who are struggling has grown, which shows up in the data as well as anecdotally. The stresses of growing up are weighing on our young people.

This does not mean children had it easier in the old days. It’s not as though growing up before child labor laws went into effect and when childhood illnesses were much more common, and severe, was some kind of picnic. But whatever the reason, stress levels in today’s youth are alarmingly high. More parents are aware of the problem and are seeking relief, but running into obstacles all around.

There are wait lists. Providers that don’t take the right insurance. A lack of providers in general. Therapies that are recommended but not offered nearby. Costs are too high. The list of difficulties to securing the right kind of mental health care is long and frustrating, and due to the nature of mental health care, it’s not always clear what’s needed. What’s recommended initially might not be effective, in which case the project of seeking care starts all over again.

It’s an exhausting, sometimes debilitating process, and it’s one that continues even in a state like Connecticut, where attention has been shining on the children’s mental health crisis for years now, and it continues even after reforms passed last year in the General Assembly aimed at making care more accessible to more people.

Those reforms were necessary. Legislators have recognized they are not enough.

Senate Bill 2, which has passed out of the Committee on Children and includes a number of components aimed at young people’s well-being, includes provisions focused specifically on mental health. Among them are increasing access to mental health evaluations, ensuring that insurance pays for more services and increasing access for people who lack insurance. All are necessary to see that more children do not fall through the cracks.

Also in the bill would be the creation of an Office of the Behavioral Health Advocate within the state’s Insurance Department. The new office would have responsibilities including helping providers receive payments for services, providing information on policy implementation around mental health, and helping people get access to coverage for behavioral services.

The bill has enjoyed wide support so far, and it deserves passage. In a year where surpluses are providing a rosy budget picture, funding should not be a concern.

It’s worth the money we spend on mental health care, not only for the relief it provides, but for the problems that good care can avoid down the road. Everyone deserves an opportunity to receive better care.

Mental health has never received the same money and attention as physical health. Maybe that is starting to change.