WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) questioned Dr. Sharon Hoover, Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the National Center for the University of Maryland’s School of Mental Health School of Medicine, Dr. Ashley Weiss, Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Tulane University’s School of Medicine, and Dr. Curtis Wright, Vice President of Student Affairs for Xavier University of Louisiana, during a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) about how to address increased mental health problems among adolescents.
Excerpts from Senator Tuberville’s questions can be found below, and his full remarks can be found here.
ON OVERPRESCRIPTION OF PSYCHIATRIC MEDICATIONS TO ADOLESCENTS
TUBERVILLE: “This is important. I don’t think people really know how important it is. I coached for 40 years. I coached in eight states, I went in high schools all over this county. And 80s and 90s we had a mental health problem, but after 2000, after the internet, and this [phone] right here came out it’s devastated our kids. And I saw it every day, so this is a huge problem. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Dr. Wright, I am like you – faith based, family, I mean that’s how we’re going to overcome a lot of this. It’s going to have to come through that, but we’ve got to be prepared and we’ve got to be able to recognize the problem. Dr. Hoover, for years I saw kids come play for me, and a lot of them came in early in my career with very little problems. The last 20 years they’ve came in and they have ADHD, they said they did, and we were giving them drugs right and left. We weren’t – the doctors were prescribing them. Do we have a medication problem in this country when it comes to mental health?”
HOOVER: “That’s a good question and first of all Senator Tuberville I want to thank you for your coaching years, because we know that… all of the adults have a responsibility to take care of the mental health of our young people including our coaches.”
“In terms of medication and the diagnoses seem to be increasing, part of it I would argue is that we are really just becoming more aware of the mental health needs of our young people. I would say that our medications are far from perfect, in fact many would argue they are imperfect solutions to the mental health challenges of our young people. But there is also strong evidence that some of the medications for our children and adolescences including for ADHD as you mentioned and other mental health challenges have been effective, but they are most effective when combined with other interventions and that includes mental health interventions provided by licensed counselors, social workers, and psychologists but also the everyday supports whether it’s from the faith community, from family, or from schools.”
ON DIRECTING FUNDS TO HELP WITH MENTAL HEALTH
TUBERVILLE: “We locked these kids down for several years, fortunately in Alabama we didn’t do [that] as much, and we had a study come out not to long ago. We went from 49th to 39th in some areas of our scores improving. We went from 40th in the country to 1st in the country in graduation rate because we stayed in school… In your opinion, how do we best direct these funds in the future to help with mental health?”
WEISS: “The cost needs to be reflective and encompass what it takes to scaffold them into these opportunities that they really haven’t had before. And that might be more costly than to support a kid with ADHD from high school to college, however, were just really learning now in the last ten years what that’s going to look like for this country. So, because early intervention in severe mental illness is such a new concept, literally were talking about the last 10 years of clinics, last 20 years of research.”
ON SUPPORTING STUDENTS WHO ENTER THE WORKFORCE OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL
TUBERVILLE: “I know were talking about going from high school to college. Half the kids in this country don’t go to college – they get a job; they get in the military. How do we help them? How do we evaluate them? Because most kids that go to college get some kind of evaluation through the process of higher education. How do we help those kids that don’t go to college?”
HOOVER: “That’s a great question… I was hoping that it would go beyond just college because we know so many young people don’t go on to college, and I would wish that we had better supports in place for them.”
“The supports that were talking about from high school to college are critical, but what’s more critical is that we put systems in place from pre-k to k-12 to actually identify and provide scaffolding and structured support for their mental health… We need to be doing mental health literacy in the classroom. We need to be putting systems of identification into their hands whether it’s in schools, on college campuses, or in their communities. I think the efforts to support integration into primary care are critical, so for those who do go onto career, maybe not college, they can get some of those same supports in their primary care setting, or in other natural settings whether that’s their faith community, whether that’s their family, there are many interventions that can support families to better equip them to support their young people, including as they transition to adulthood so we need to not just put these services in schools or primary care, but we need to put them in the hands of families.”
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.