A Thoughtful Response to the Children’s Mental Health Crisis

Category: Listening Sessions, Personal Stories, Poverty News & Policy Updates, The Safety Net

July 10th, 2022

Gia Jones is a mother of four, a Parent Leader with Parent Voices CA, and a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

As it did for so many parents, the pandemic deepened my sense of just how critical access to mental health services is for children and families. My then-2-year-old twins and teenager responded to the crisis in very different ways, and their needs were different too. 

As we emerge into a post-pandemic life, it is good to see Asm. Lisa Calderon working to create a virtual platform that would integrate mental health screenings, app-based supports, and services to children and young adults ages 25 and younger. Critically, the platform would serve families regardless of payer—whether private health insurance, MediCal, a school-linked counselor, or other source. Although the legislation was introduced as a “spot bill”, or placeholder, this session, Asm. Calderon’s office says she will continue to pursue this vision next year.

To me, as a parent and advocate with experience in the mental health field, the proposal is groundbreaking work. It signifies the importance of parents, advocates, and legislators’ mindfulness in addressing mental health services for youth and families.

The biggest obstacles my family tackled during the pandemic were the social isolation of distance learning for my teen and my twins not being able to attend day care. The twins wanted to be attached to me 24-7. They were non-stop clinging, climbing, lying on top of me—like appendages to my body—and they didn’t want to share me with their siblings or anyone else. They are beautiful and joyful, but they would whine and cry when they weren’t getting what they want and it took a toll on me. Their social activities were limited to mom, their dad, siblings, and close family friends, and that was not sufficient for their social-emotional development.  

As for my teen, the lack of a social life, the isolation, online classes—it led to irritability and stress as it did for so many of her peers.  I was able to consult with our family doctor and, as a trained therapist, work with her to develop healthy coping strategies. However, these resources are not available for everyone. There are challenges finding a provider who will accept MediCal or one’s particular health insurance. There is the stigma around mental health struggle and consequent difficulty discussing it with a stranger as one tries to find help. Given that symptoms of depression and anxiety for children and adolescents doubled during the pandemic, leading the US Surgeon General to issue an advisory on the mental health crisis among teens, we need our elected officials doing everything they can to remove barriers to treatment. 

Indeed Asm. Calderon’s proposal creates a new space that open doors to treatment. It is a thoughtful initiative that recognizes the needs of children and families as revealed by the pandemic, with the potential to radically transform access to mental healthcare.

If a parent’s life encompasses a balance between nurturance, care, and advocacy—which is how I see my own life as a parent—then this is legislation worthy of our attention and support.