Colorado girl shares mental health journey in the wake of dramatic increase in pediatric behavioral health patients
SOUTHERN COLORADO — The Behavioral Health Recovery Act, a dedicated $100 million US rescue plan spent on urgent mental health needs, has passed from the Colorado state legislature.
Before the bill was passed, Children’s Hospital Colorado urged lawmakers to allocate more money to the needs of pediatric mental health care. For the first time ever, the Children’s Hospital declared a “state of emergency” for the mental health of young people on May 25. “It’s different now. So I would never have tuned in to whether my six- and eight-year-old would ever have thoughts of self-harm, but we’re seeing kids as young as seven engaging in these behaviors,” said Heidi Baskfield, the deputy deputy. President of Health and Advocacy for Children’s Hospital.
The hospital system sees twice as many patients reporting increased anxiety, depression or isolation compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Behavioral health emergency department visits in 2021 are up 72% from the same period two years ago.
Colorado Children’s Hospital
Visits to the behavioral health emergency department are up 72% this year from the same period two years ago.
Colorado is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to tackling children’s mental health. According to those with the Children’s Hospital, the state ranks 48. The unprecedented number of mental health challenges for children and the inability to meet the need has resulted in many children being sent out of the state for treatment. “It’s expensive to send kids out of the state, so it’s kind of ironic that instead of putting the money here in the infrastructure, we’re paying those dollars to send them elsewhere,” Baskfield said.
“The challenge we have in the state is that we’re starting with very little. So we’re already so far behind that the level of investment needed to move us into a much better space is very intense.”
Heidi Baskfield, Colorado Children’s Hospital
Baskfield said things like anxiety, depression or self-harm can be precursors to suicidal thoughts. All of these challenges are reported in record numbers this year. Baskfield said the pandemic is a very real factor contributing to the increase, as children have faced a variety of stressful factors linked to dramatic changes in both their social and personal lives. “If you start piling things like this on top of each other, you really start to put young people in a really difficult position,” Baskfield said.
Growing up in Denver, 12-year-old Kate Hartman said her anxiety increased during the pandemic. “I lost touch with some friends, which was really hard for me because I have anxiety, and I started to worry that we would lose touch because I wasn’t good enough… I got so nervous and eventually I got really sad, and I felt isolated, and I felt like nobody cared… My anxiety really started to increase around the fall, winter, when I was able to complete some of my work, but not all of it. And I I had a hard time handing everything in on time because I would be so distracted,” Hartman explains.
Hartman was like no other prepared to deal with this level of stress, having learned about mental health challenges in her past. “When I was in second grade, it started in kindergarten, but I was bullied unbelievably bad, and I was bullied all the time. And there were so many rumors, and it was hard because I was so young and I didn’t know then how to deal with it, and it felt so personal to me, and I believed all the things people said about me,” Hartman said.
The bullying worsened, and on Valentine’s Day in 2017, Hartman “told my parents I didn’t want to live anymore.” She was only eight years old at the time.
Hartman’s parents consulted with a psychologist, who told them it was best to get her first aid. She was taken to the emergency room of the children’s hospital. “It’s a scary feeling to think you can’t keep your kids safe… If things had gone differently in 2017, chances are she’s not with us today and can spread that story… There’s so much a lot of stigma, and misunderstandings, and just denial of mental health treatment, and we’re not in a place where we can do that anymore,” said Kate’s mother, Hope Hartman.
Hartman used the skills she learned to manage her anxiety during the pandemic. She knows how to take a deep breath, make time for activities she enjoys, and will break her schoolwork into more manageable chunks. “Mental health is such an important topic, and we need to keep talking about it, to break the stigma and make people more open and comfortable sharing their feelings, because we all feel sometimes feel down,” Hartman says. .
Those at the Children’s Hospital have heard far too many similar stories to Hartman’s, which is why they pushed for two changes to the Health Restoration Behavior Act. “In a $100 million package right now, without the addition of these amendments, only $12.5 million is being spent on children and young people. And that doesn’t even seem close to supporting what we see right now. in the state,” Baskfield said, before the changes were approved.
“A lot of this bill really focuses on the adult side of the equation. And as is often the case, kids don’t vote, they don’t write campaign checks, and so their vote is often not taken into account.”
Heidi Baskfield, Colorado Children’s Hospital
One of the changes increased funding for crisis services from $2 million to $5 million. The money can be used to fund the expansion of bed capacity and a pilot program for youth mobile crisis. It may also go to community-based crisis services to help families manage crises in their homes.
The other amendment added $5 million for “short-term emergency capacity building for high-quality, specialized residential youth placements and therapeutic foster care.”
Those with a children’s hospital say the funding could be used within the next six months to open beds in residential treatment centers, therapeutic foster care and psychiatric residential treatment facilities.