Vermont Experts Call for Urgent Action to Meet Children’s Mental Health Challenges

The U.S. is facing a youth mental health emergency, and urgent action is needed to prevent it from worsening. Vermont is no different.

That was the message of a recent editorial in Vermont Digger by UVM pediatrician Christian Pulcini. M.D. From May 2019 to May 2020, Vermont saw a 66 percent increase in emergency department visits for youth mental health . From April through December 2020, visits rose 35 percent compared to 2019. These trends exist all across the U.S.

Children’s Mental Health Emergency Declared

The situation has prompted a consortium of groups to declare a national emergency in children’s mental health. The group cited the sharp increase in ER visits for mental health in a call to action released Oct. 19. It also pointed to rising rates of suicidality, anxiety, depression, and other challenges in children as young as 5. The coalition includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association.

Pulcini is a board member of the Vermont chapter of the AAP. He called for immediate “allocation of resources and the removal of barriers for organizations to create tailored strategies to bolster their mental health infrastructure, while longer-term solutions are enacted.” He also laid out a three-pronged plan for moving forward:

  • Finding community space outside of emergency departments for individuals needing mental health care.
  • Speeding up construction of new mental-healthcare spaces.
  • Allocating state funding to support critical staffing.

Community Agencies Respond

Throughout Vermont, community mental health agencies are meeting the needs of kids who have been impacted by the pandemic.  “The growing need for mental health supports underscores the critical need for resources all across the state at the local level to meet the demands of each community,” says Simone Rueschemeyer, executive director of Vermont Care Network/ Vermont Care Partners (VCP). VCP is a network of sixteen community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability supports and services in all regions of the state. 

“In many parts of Vermont, both urban and rural, these agencies are the first call for mental health emergencies,” Rueschemeyer says. “These dedicated professionals are working harder than ever, even amidst their own pandemic stresses, to meet the mental healthcare needs of people in every corner of Vermont.” 

In Bennington County, for example, United Counseling Service is providing urgent care for children and youth experiencing a mental health crisis, allowing for assessment and skill building in a supportive environment away from the chaos of an Emergency Department.  In Windsor and Windham counties, Healthcare and Rehabilitative Services, based in Brattleboro, is partnering with schools, community providers, and networks across the state to air short documentaries on mental health topics such as anxiety and bullying. And in Chittenden County, the Howard Center and Northeast Family Institute are working hard to staff up children’s crisis-bed programs that have been vacant due to significant statewide healthcare workforce shortages.  The all-hands-on-deck approach includes program leaders taking on shifts to ensure that this resource remains available for children and youth in crisis.  

Learn More and Find Resources

Visit Vermont Care Partners to find the community mental health center that serves your area. Contact your local agency to find out about programs and services available to support youth mental health.

Read Dr. Christian Pulcini’s commentary in Vt Digger on the state of the youth mental health emergency in Vermont.

Also see the Declaration of National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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