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Making Mental Health a Priority

May 22, 2020

Mother and son hugging.

The pandemic is putting enormous stress on all families. With each passing day, the need for mental health supports increases. Yet the District’s already complex mental health system is harder than ever to access.

That’s why we are reaching out to every child and family we work with to make sure they are able to access medication and therapy to help them manage during these hard times.

And it is why we build strong relationships with families like the Harts,* so they will reach out to us when new crises emerge. 

In April, when Ms. Hart was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and tested positive for COVID-19, her mother stepped in to take care of her children. Given the risk of infection, the children were unable to return to their apartment to retrieve belongings. This meant William, Ms. Hart’s son, was without his psychiatric medication.

Thankfully, Ms. Hart’s mother remembered the name of the family’s Children’s Law Center lawyer and called us for help. We reached out to our partners at Children’s National and connected the family with a pediatrician, psychologist and psychiatrist. They met with William, assessed his mental health needs, and wrote new prescriptions that would help treat his depression, anxiety and PTSD. The family was also able to get tested for COVID-19.

Although she was hospitalized for several weeks, Ms. Hart is back home with her family recovering and William continues to do well with his new medication.

This is just one example of how building trusting relationships and professional partnerships allows us to solve problems and avert crises for children. And how the pandemic turns small issues, like securing medication, into major hurdles. 

Just imagine how scared William must have been with his mother in the hospital with COVID-19 for a whole month – and the psychiatric crisis it would have been for him to manage those feelings without medication for his underlying depression and anxiety.

Earlier this week, the Mayor announced the proposed budget for the upcoming year, and we immediately looked at what mental health supports might be impacted. We were pleased to see that—because of our ongoing advocacy—DC will continue expanding school-based mental health programs to more schools. However, some cuts raise concerns which is why we’re advocating to restore critical mental health funding before the budget is finalized in July.

It is also why we created the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Resource Guide for the more than 100,000 DC children on Medicaid. Developed in partnership with DC Mental Health Access in Pediatrics and the District of Columbia Behavioral Health Association, the guide identifies a variety of services and currently active providers for mental health support during the pandemic, including therapists who are accepting new patients, those who can offer alcohol and substance abuse support and providers who help with perinatal mental health issues like postpartum depression.

Knowing this is a challenging time for everyone, and in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite you to forward this email to anyone who may benefit from this resource. Also, if you know anyone who needs additional support, please have them call 1-888-793-4357 to connect with a mental health clinician. 

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during this time,
Judith Sandalow
Executive Director 

*Children’s Law Center works hard to protect our clients’ confidentiality. The family members’ names and key identifying facts have been modified. All other details are true.