Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Protecting Youth Mental Health

On February 8th, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy testified at a hearing for the Senate Finance Committee to identify mental health concerns for American youth. This bipartisan hearing underscores the Senate’s attention as the ongoing youth mental health crisis that has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The House and Senate have held numerous hearings on this critical topic. (See previous FABBS coverage on another congressional hearing on the topic featuring FABBS Council Representative, Dr. Mitch Prinstein). Dr. Murthy’s testimony follows his previously issued Surgeon General’s Advisory addressing the nation’s youth mental health crisis (see previous FABBS coverage on the report).  

The Surgeon General framed his testimony with four recommendations:  

  • access to high quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care,  
  • prevention programs in community-based programs, 
  • the impact and accountability of technology, and
  • overcoming stigma associated with mental health and seeking help. 

A big topic of discussion for many senators during this hearing was improving access to mental health care and services, where telehealth can serve as a supplement for those who have trouble accessing care. Dr. Murthy and the Senators present agreed that providing care across state lines and in rural areas, the adoption of telehealth and telemedicine, broadband access, and properly utilized technology could narrow the gap in inequality of receiving access to public health information and services.  

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) remarked on the barriers that researchers face when trying to access data from media companies. Other Senators joined this discussion surrounding social media, the lack of safety standards in the use of digital technology, and availing access to data for researchers to accurately assess mental health. The Senators agreed that the relationship between digital technologies and mental health is very poorly understood, as specifically commented on by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH).  

Of interest to FABBS scientists, Dr. Murthy argued that public health experts should be able to access and analyze data from technology and social media use that private companies conduct from massive national experiments on their social media users. Access to this information would enable them to draw conclusions and draft recommendations to support youth mental health.  

During the question-and-answer portion of this hearing, Senators expressed a strong interest in addressing stigma and the cultural change in mental health within families, communities, and institutions. 

“The challenge is that these preventative programs are often underfunded, understudied, and underappreciated by the public. Many educators who have discovered these programs often do not know how to go about with them. Resources and technical assistance can make a big difference in helping our kids early in the time course of these challenges.” 

-Dr. Vivek Murthy

Research from the psychological and behavioral sciences have made major contributions to inform intervention efforts to reduce stigma [for example, the National Institute of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (NIH OBSSR)’s Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)]. Additionally, Senator Carper (D-DE) praised the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) programs and their support for evidence-based research to inform prevention efforts, such as family check-up. FABBS scientists contribute to the knowledgebase, prevention, interventions and treatment to address mental health and behavioral. FABBS advocates for federal support for research and works to connect the research to policy and practice.