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Teens ask Virginia lawmakers to advocate for their mental health


RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia students are speaking with lawmakers in the General Assembly in an effort to advocate for their mental health.

Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA) stood with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate for a press conference on students’ mental health on Tuesday.

“It’s honestly shocking to see how much of the budget goes towards things other than our youth even though the young people are our future,” said Ishika Vij, a youth advocate from Loudoun County. “They face the effects of social media, politics, the effects of the pandemic and trauma they face on their daily-to-daily lives.”

VAYA is an advisory council of young change makers convened by Voices for Virginia’s Children, according to a press release. The group called on state lawmakers to build on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed budget to expand youth mental health services, especially in schools.

Youngkin announced a three-year plan called “Right Help, Right Now,” to transform Virginia’s behavioral health system with an initial $230 million investment towards crisis care, service, delivery and workforce.

Virginia is currently ranked 48th in the nation when it comes to access to youth mental health services, according to the 2023 Mental Health State in America. Less than 10% of funding to the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services go to youth.

Youngkin’s budget includes increased funds to $15 million for school-based mental health integration services and $9 million to fund mental health telehealth services in schools and higher education institutes.

His budget, if approved, would include $58 million to create a comprehensive system of crisis response services.

Lawmakers with Voices for Virginia’s Children have requested $8.4 million to build out children’s crisis response and child psychiatry capacity and infrastructure.

Proposed legislation would include $450,000 to design new Medicaid reimbursement rates to be indexed to inflation and to provide venues for youth stakeholders to design into school-based mental health services.

“Medicaid funding services for young people in schools significantly dropped during the pandemic, as we all know, and a replacement has not yet been implemented,” said Del. Emily Brewer (R-Suffolk).

Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Manassas) said they also intend to “tighten down the definition of a school counselor.”

“Right now, in the code it requires 80% of school counselor time for counseling. However, because the definition is so open often, they get assigned to recess, lunch duty, or substituting all under that umbrella definition,” McPike stated.

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