The children’s mental health crisis isn’t going anywhere. Suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, and despite 80% of chronic mental health disorders beginning in childhood, only 20% of afflicted children receive care from specialized providers, and even fewer receive follow-up care.
Unfortunately, much of that uptick results from an incompatibility between our schools and our mental healthcare systems.
Together, we’ve worked to fight for a solution. As a recent graduate of Wilton High School and a legislator representing seven public high schools, we have personally seen the limitations of mental healthcare access in our local schools. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has merely shone a spotlight on systemic faults. Workload-related pressures compounded by lack of social interaction have exacerbated underlying stresses among students; quarantines have sharpened concern about unaddressed anxiety- and depression-associated psychiatric disorders. Many of our own former peers, unable to escape family and home for extended periods, have lost access to safeguards at school and in public.
One More Option: The Case for Expanding Connecticut Children’s Mental Health Privileges
That is why we worked to incorporate a key provision into Senate Bill No. 2, which address gaps in the care pathway. This bill would expand minors’ access to outpatient mental healthcare by removing the cap on the number of counseling sessions they may seek without parental consent, allowing children to maintain their privacy while taking advantage of therapy services.
Access to outpatient mental healthcare is particularly crucial in cases where parents may obstruct outreach to practitioners or where informing parents may worsen contributing factors. Some parents may outright reject the notion of their child speaking to mental health professionals over concern about stigma or the effects of prescribed medication. Patterns of abuse and contention over sexual orientation in the household can also incentivize children to look beyond immediate caregivers for models of support and security. Expanding access to counseling sessions without parental consent is a common sense step towards helping adolescents in difficult home situations.
Vulnerable children utilizing therapy generally require more than six sessions—the current cap—to meet their goals, and the overwhelming majority of outpatient care authorizations for minors explicitly pertains to mental health. Allowing minors to seek an unlimited number of outpatient counseling sessions would align ease of access with these clinical realities while keeping parents conditionally informed of developments in diagnoses, recommendations, and treatment plans.
To the youth who have exhausted all options in reaching out for support, the gift of access—of just one more option—can make all the difference. We are so grateful for the leadership of Senator Anwar in fighting for this bill and including this idea in the final proposal. By taking up SB 2, we are confident that the legislature will save lives.
Vignesh Subramanian is a 2020 graduate of Wilton High School and now studies biology, health and wellness at Stony Brook University.