The News-Times

Mental health must be a state priority


The negative outcomes from COVID-19 are not limited to physical health. Though the toll is not as visible and can be harder to quantify, the harms to mental health over the past two years have been staggering, and show no sign of ebbing in the near term. This is most commonly seen among schoolchil­dren, and explains the urge to maintain in-person education even as the omicron variant has sent positivity rates in Connecticu­t soaring in recent weeks. The damage to children’s mental health last year without the routine of school and the accompanyi­ng socializat­ion was real, and led the state to put inperson school at the top of the list of priorities in the New Year.

There are well-meaning advocates who argue this push has gone too far, and that a temporary return to remote learning should be considered as sickness spreads yet again. These are agonizing decisions, and no one who interacts daily with students, teachers and parents, whatever solution they propose, is acting in bad faith. Everyone wants what’s best, but it’s not always easy to know what that is.

The troubles, though, extend far beyond children. Many adults, parents or otherwise, are being driven past their limits by the ongoing health emergency, and existing staffing levels are not sufficient to provide services to all the people who need them. Factoring in the increased needs of providers themselves, including those who have gotten sick, and it’s an increasing­ly untenable situation. Too many people need help.

In response, a coalition of lawmakers and providers are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and other state leaders to increase funding and access to services. Among other providers, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the state Department of Children and Families have seen a growing staffing crisis that has hurt their ability to provide mental health services to residents, especially those at the bottom of the income ladder, the coalition says.

The competitio­n for public dollars is always fierce, but for the near-term, opportunit­ies exist. Returns from the stock market have kept the state’s budget flush, and an influx of federal relief dollars continues to make new options feasible. This situation won’t stay forever, so it’s important to lock in priorities now. Mental health will not always be as clearly in the forefront as it is during a pandemic, but it’s not as if the need is going to go away, either.

Some state leaders have expressed a willingnes­s to make positive changes. “We need to put more money into the public sector and the private sector,” House Speaker Matt Ritter, DHartford, said. “We need to expand telehealth so that people have access to services in their own homes, where they want them.”

That’s a welcome attitude. But the dawn of an election year, with every office in state government up for grabs, means there will be increased focus on spending decisions. We need to make sure our priorities are straight.

A focus on mental health should be an easy choice. As overburden­ed as our health care facilities have been as COVID rages yet again, we may not even know the full story of our mental health challenges. It’s going to require our sustained attention.

As overburden­ed as our health care facilities have been as COVID rages yet again, we may not even know the full story of our mental health challenges.

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