Dunn sounds alarm over severe shortage of child mental health professionals, asks Dems to support bill

Dunn sounds alarm over severe shortage of child mental health professionals, asks Dems to support bill

Aura Dunn

TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywoman Aura Dunn says New Jersey is woefully unprepared to address the mental health crisis facing children and is calling on Democrats to support her bill to increase the number of counselors for children and teens.

“The money set aside in the state budget to train child and adolescent psychiatrists is incredibly insufficient. Children are facing rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide and there are not enough mental health professionals to meet the demand. It’s heartbreaking,” Dunn (R-Morris) said.

Of the $9.62 million in the state budget to increase the number of mental health professionals, only 8% is specifically set aside for child and adolescent psychiatrists. New Jersey has 17 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children, which meets the definition of a severe shortage according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“I have written a letter asking Assemblywomen Linda Carter and Mila Jasey to post my bill for a hearing in the Assembly Higher Education Committee, but my request has been ignored. Improving access to mental health care is a bipartisan issue,” Dunn continued.

Dunn’s bill (A3698) provides student loan redemption payments of $1,000 a year for four years and gross income tax credits of $1,000 for each taxable year a mental health professional is providing services to children and adolescents.

According to an NJ Spotlight News article, the average medical student is carrying a debt of $350,000 to $400,000 and medical residents are leaving New Jersey for lucrative loan repayment options.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, the damaging effects of social isolation orders and school closures are evident. We have a mental health crisis on our hands and the lack of providers is a barrier to getting kids the help they need,” Dunn said. “It is time we prioritize our children’s mental health.”

The New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers says there is a 30 to 60 day waiting period before a person can get in to see a counselor and a three to five month wait for an appointment with an agency therapist.

In 2020, one in six young people experienced a major depressive episode and suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. Only half of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems in the United States receive the treatment they need.