State Legislature Hears Testimony from Mental Health Experts
Vermont legislators heard testimony last week from mental health experts about how to fix the state’s escalating crisis in youth mental health. The Dec. 9 hearings before the House Committee on Healthcare are part of the legislative effort to address long wait times for psychiatric and mental healthcare across the state.
Vermont Commissioner of Mental Health Emily Hawes and others described a system buckling from both increased demand and reduced capacity. The top priority is a system-wide workforce shortage, Hawes’ written testimony suggested. Staffing deficiencies affect all aspects of the mental healthcare system, from community-based supports and crisis counselors to residential and inpatient programs. The lack of capacity at the level of community and crisis response leads to an influx of people seeking care in emergency settings, and the lack of availability at residential and inpatient settings means there is nowhere for them to go. As a result, people experiencing a mental health crisis are stuck in emergency rooms waiting for care – sometimes for days.
‘In the Throes’ of Mental Health Crisis
The long delays in care have made headlines across the state as mental health experts grapple with the enormity of the problem. Anxiety and depression were on the rise among Vermont youth even before the pandemic. Covid-related stressors, including the increased isolation felt by many people, changing social service benefits, the “great resignation,” and financial distress, all add fuel to the fire. Surging case numbers, hospitals close to capacity, and now, a new variant, contribute to uncertainties and angst.
“We are still in the throes of a rolling disaster,” Mary Moulton, board president of VT Council/Vermont Care Partners and executive director of Washington County Mental Health Services, said in her testimony. “We had hoped to be in recovery mode by now, but anticipate that our situation may worsen further before we move into recovery.”
Moulton shared the most recent data on capacity and wait times at community-based agencies around the state. The mental health needs of Vermonters of all ages are increasing at the same time the system is experiencing unprecedented growth in staff vacancies. Despite efforts to stem the losses, staffing shortages are driving closures and reduced hours at residential treatment and crisis-response programs, creating a backlog at urgent-care facilities.
Surgeon General Advisory on Youth Mental Health
Vermont is not unique in facing this crisis. Reports from all across the country and around the world show that children and youth are struggling with pandemic life everywhere. The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of children globally experience mental illness. In October, three leading professional organizations serving children declared a national emergency in youth mental health and called for systemic changes to the mental healthcare system. On Dec. 9, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a new Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health, adding to the chorus of voices calling for urgent attention to the unfolding crisis.
Learn More and Find Resources
Join our free virtual workshop with child psychiatrist Cath Burns, Ph.D., “Parenting to Promote Health and Wellness in Children and Youth,” on Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. Register here.
Read the written testimony before the Vermont House Committee on Healthcare from Dec. 9, 2021.
Find mental health resources for youth in your community with Vermont Care Partners’ guide to designated agencies throughout Vermont.
Learn more about the declaration of a national emergency in youth mental health.
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
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 resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
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.