The U.S. is facing a youth mental health crisis that isn’t bound by geography or partisanship, according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
To confront it, Murphy plans to make the issue a cornerstone of his work as the new chair of the National Governors Association — a role he takes on Friday at a ceremony in Portland, Maine after serving for the past year as the nonpartisan association’s vice chairman. He is replacing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
In prepared remarks provided to Gothamist, Murphy is slated to announce the “Strengthening Youth Mental Health” initiative, calling on his peers across the country to prioritize a “crisis that the pandemic did not create but exposed more fully.”
“As challenging as the previous two years have been for us adults, we know the strain is nothing compared to what too many of America’s children were under,” Murphy writes in his remarks. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from April shows 37% of high school students reported poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44% reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Materials provided by the governor’s office in advance of his remarks didn’t cite specific proposals or legislation Murphy would promote – though his remarks said “collaboration sessions” would begin soon. But the governor’s office said the work would focus on four pillars: prevention and resilience building; increasing awareness and reducing stigma; access to and affordability of care; and caregiver training and support.
New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer also said in the prepared remarks that in the new fiscal year 2023 budget, the state was taking an “all hands on deck” approach to youth mental health.
In late June, Murphy signed a $50.6 billion budget that had more than $480 million for grants-in-aid to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, NJ Spotlight reported at the time. The funds include more than $5.6 million for increasing the number of mental health providers statewide. Money was also awarded to college campuses for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
New Jersey will take part in the national rollout of the 988 mental health crisis and suicide prevention hotline on Saturday. The budget awards $16 million for that effort.
Murphy’s ascension to the chair of the National Governors Association – along with his expected 2023 chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association, a role he last filled in 2020 – is seen by many as an opportunity to bolster his presence on the national stage. But he told NJ Advance Media earlier this year he doesn’t expect a presidential run – either in 2024 if Joe Biden doesn’t seek renomination or in 2028 after another presidential term has passed.
In tandem with the governor’s announcement, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy – taking over the role of Governor’s Spouses Program chair from Arkansas’ Susan Hutchinson – plans to advance an initiative to create “a national model to tackle the maternal and infant health crisis, the governor’s office said.