Governor Murphy Introduces Chair’s Initiative: Strengthening Youth Mental Health Care

At the closing session of NGA’s Summer Meeting 2022, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy accepted the NGA Chair’s gavel from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and underlined the importance of Governors’ collaboration to advance bipartisan solutions.

“Most of our constituent don’t really care what party we represent,” Governor Murphy stated.  “They elected us to deliver solutions. Like the majority of Americans, they just want us to find common ground. I’m confident that we can succeed and confident that we can continue to prove that states are laboratories of democracy.”

As NGA Chair for 2022 – 2023, Governor Murphy unveiled his Chair’s Initiative: Strengthening Youth Mental Health Care.

“We are all aware of the youth mental health crisis in our country,” he explained. “It is a crisis that the pandemic did not create but exposed more fully. It is one that we must tackle together, and tackle now.”

According to the CDC, more than a third of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. Further, nearly 1 in 5 children experience a mental health issue, but only about 20% receive care.

Governor Murphy also identified barriers to care, noting: “Our nation’s mental health workforces are depleted, leading to care that is in some cases too expensive and, in others, nearly inaccessible whether by distance or time.”

Governor Murphy outlined four complementary pillars the Chair’s Initiative will advance:

  • Prevention and Resilience Building: Create welcoming, supportive and healthy environments that seamlessly weave age-appropriate mental and behavioral health tools into the fabric of children’s lives in their schools, homes and communities.
  • Increasing Awareness and Reducing Stigma: Promote awareness of mental health resources and foundational mental health knowledge by expanding easy access points to education, helplines and state services to help ensure young people know how to seek the help they need.
  • Access and Affordability of Quality Treatment and Care: Build a robust system of supports – including by leveraging unique funding opportunities to supplement and amplify state investments.
  • Caregiver and Educator Training and Support: Expand existing training and supports to ensure those caring for and interacting with youth on a daily basis have the tools and understanding to identify mental health needs, and when and how to refer young people to care.

The Chair’s Initiative will parallel an initiative led by New Jersey First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy. Building on her Nurture NJ program, the First Lady’s NGA Spouses’ Program Chair Initiative aims to create a national model to help address the maternal and infant health crisis in the United States.

“The most important thing to know is that the United States should be the cutting edge in terms of health care, period,” explained First Lady Murphy. “And when Phil came into office four and a half years ago and we found out that the United States was 55th in the world in terms of maternal mortality rates, it was pretty clear as a mom and a dad of four… that we’ve got to fix this. We have spent the last four and a half years trying to break down silos to bring all the good work that so many people are doing out into the open and to support our mothers and our families.”

By pairing the initiatives, which have many parallels, the goal is to achieve results that “will hopefully lead to a ‘1+1 = 3’ result, which is greater than the sum of its parts,” Governor Murphy said.

To kick off the initiatives, the Governor and First Lady participated in a panel discussion with mental health expert Heidi Baskfield, vice president of Population, Health and Advocacy at Children’s Hospital Colorado; Amy Kennedy, education director, The Kennedy Forum; and Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, AVP for Health Equity, Merck and lead, Merck for Mothers.

Opening the discussion, Baskfield shared that the Children’s Hospital Association, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has declared a national mental health emergency for children and teens, launching a “Sound the Alarm” campaign with over 60 nationwide organizations and 70 children’s hospitals joining in.

“You can’t create and function a system of youth mental health care without the effective leadership and partnership of a Governor,” Baskfield emphasized.

Addressing the keys to supporting resilient children and communities, Amy Kennedy referenced her five children, whose school curriculum includes “social/emotional learning, life skills, things that are preparing them for the inevitable challenges that are going to come with life.”

“We know that it’s important to intervene early,” Kennedy continued. “What is that going to look like? How do we teach those help-seeking behaviors to young people so that they can reach out when they are first experiencing difficulty and not wait a decade to seek help?”

Underlining the connection between maternal / infant health and heath care more broadly, Dr. Etiebet stated: “I always say maternal mortality is a vital sign, but it’s not just the vital sign of our health system. It’s a vital sign of our society. For Governors to take on this cause is essential.”

“This is going to take more than interventions at the health system level,” she explained. “From a Governor’s perspective [the priority] is ‘how can we support what’s happening at the neighborhood level, at the council level, at the city level? How can we connect the dots?’”

Wrapping up the session, Governor Murphy welcomed collaboration from fellow Governors. “We’re going to take this around the country,” he announced. “We’ll be coming to your states.”

“Several states are already pursuing some of these priorities through NGA programs,” he added. “We have a good foundation upon which to build, and [just as] states are the laboratories of democracy so, too, are states the laboratories for innovation. I will welcome your ideas, and I’m eager to hear what works.”

Watch the Session: