A Pennsylvania student tells US senators more money is needed for teen mental health

US Senate HELP Committee

Baldwin-Whitehall senior Brooklyn Williams testified before the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Wednesday about the need for increased support for youth mental health

Speaking before a panel of US senators, senior Brooklyn Williams said her mental health issues were overlooked as a child and, like many of her peers, her symptoms worsened during the pandemic.

The Baldwin-Whitehall student told the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions on Wednesday during a hearing on mental health support in the transition from high school to college that social isolation during the pandemic increased her feelings of stress and despair.

“The way each of us experiences mental health is fluid and I feel like schools and communities only step in when it becomes very serious and unfortunately too late in some cases,” she said.

Williams’ mother died of breast cancer at age 13, a decade after her diagnosis.

“Even though we tried to prepare for her death as best we could, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. The following year was a mix of deafness and therapy sessions. But the pandemic has brought everything to a halt. I felt alone,” she said.

Eventually she found that doing crafts made her feel better. When in-person learning resumed, she founded the Chill Club, an offshoot of the Allegheny Health Network’s Chill Project, at her school. It is a mindfulness group that meets to help students cope with stress and anxiety. They do handicrafts, do yoga and meditate.

Williams told senators that there is still a long way to go to meet the growing mental health need. She wants children and young people to be educated about mental health, teachers and staff to be properly trained in how to effectively address mental health issues, and for schools to facilitate mental health days.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania agreed with Williams’ observations. He has joined Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana in proposing legislation that would provide grants to health care providers to expand mental health services for youth.

The Health Care Capacity for Pediatric Mental Health Act would establish three grant programs to increase access to community-based services and supports, support training to improve pediatric mental health staff, and invest in critical pediatric mental health infrastructure.

Casey and Cassidy said in a joint statement that the right resources will save lives by “ensuring a strong network of holistic support for youth.”

Casey said during the hearing that while lawmakers have made progress in addressing the mental health crisis, the testimony from Williams, mental health professionals and educators only reiterated the urgent need.

The Children’s Hospital Association, which represents 220 children’s hospitals across the country, supports the bill and says it would provide “much-needed tailored investments in mental health infrastructure, the workforce and community-based services for children across the country.”