Stating that "in Arizona, suicide is the leading cause of mortality for ages 10-14 and ages 15-25," a special Arizona House task force has signed off on 23 proposals to address the problem.
Outgoing Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, admitted that the issue the committee was tasked with addressing "isn't a one-size-fits-all situation."
"This is an all-hands-on-deck situation," Osborne said, adding that finding answers will require the participation of parents, medical specialists and educators, law police, and the kids themselves.
She referred to the 400-page study issued by the House Ad Hoc Committee on Teen Mental Health and listed several activities that must be performed not just on a legislative level, but also in homes and schools by businesses.
"Those kids need to know you're back," Osborne explained.
"Those are the actions that we must take. There are so many wonderful people doing it, but we need more of them."
However, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, who co-chaired the group, warned that those suggestions may not be implemented as quickly as they want in the upcoming legislative session.
"Tell the panel that their efforts over the last three months have not been in vain," Grantham added.
"Everybody now is going to have to be patient and be delighted with any victories we get out of these proposals. I'll simply say that we're a split chamber here and across the yard. We've got a new governor." There's going to be a period and as we come down here in January and February where we have to get our feet under ourselves and figure out what's achievable. And the lobbyists will come out, as will the special interests, as will the representatives who disagree or agree, and that is my business. That is why I volunteered.
"And I'll do my best to push as much of this forward as I can with other members' support because I can't do it all by myself. And I just want everyone to know that your work here is essential, and if anything in here is the most important thing to you or this group, it might not happen this year.”
"The COVID-19 global pandemic exacerbated these issues, heightening the need for school-based mental health support and leveraging our acquired knowledge on how to offer loving educational environments to address the needs of our nation's young."
Outgoing House Speaker Rusty Bowers of Mesa convened the panel and urged it to report back in December with potential solutions and recommendations to public and private agencies dealing with teen mental health issues.
Some of its proposals include undefined more funding for a state-run Teen Mental Health Grant Program, which funded school districts and organizations "for mental health first aid training, youth resiliency training, and substance usage awareness training" for adults and children.
It also encouraged the Legislature to collaborate with the Attorney General's office to ensure that the millions of funds Arizona may receive for opioid-related litigation settlements be "appropriately utilized for these designated purposes."
It also advocated for the establishment of a "community hub of information and support" to address issues such as access to care, depression and mental illness, bullying and social media, family support, and substance addiction.
Some experts who previously testified before the panel advocated for such a center, but cautioned that "it is not a simple lift" because it would require coordination among a variety of websites and social media platforms.
The site would cover "various sorts of bullying, cyberbullying, social media influence and bullying behaviors for parents and children, as well as measures for students to mitigate incidences and timely reporting to school officials," among other things.
It would also give a variety of other preventive, treatment, and support information.
The panel also advocated for increased financial support for crisis and in-patient services for children, higher reimbursement rates from insurance companies and the state Medicaid program for providers due to their specialized training, and longer appointments for children because parents must be involved at some point.
It also advocated for increased financial incentives to encourage more college-bound individuals to choose jobs in mental health programs that serve children's social needs.
It recommended that school districts obtain or develop an app that aids in threat assessments and allows students to report safety issues or seek assistance anonymously 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It also urged tax credit deductions for inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs “to relieve the financial burden for families” and state funding for districts to have at least one staff member who would “work with local coalitions and nonprofits to coordinate youth resiliency and primary prevention lessons and training.”
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