NGA Chair New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy opened the first plenary session of the 2023 NGA Winter Meeting with an overview of 2022-2023 Chair Initiative: Strengthening Youth Mental Health. In response to rising rates of mental health concern among youth, Governor Murphy first introduced the NGA Chairman’s Initiative in July. Through the Strengthening Youth Mental Health initiative, Governors from across the country are collaborating to develop bipartisan, statewide solutions. Part of this work has included the development of roundtables to focus on the four pillars of the Leadership Initiative. In January, Governor Murphy was joined by Colorado Governor Jared Polis to lead the second of the four round tables focused on the Leadership Initiative. A previous round table was organized in Utah by NGA Vice President Utah Governor Spencer Cox.
Following opening remarks by Governor Murphy and Governor Cox, Governor Murphy began the plenary session by noting, “As leaders, one of our most important and sacred responsibilities is protecting the health and well-being of our children, and for a very long time long, mental health. and the welfare of our youth has been overlooked, and the consequences are impossible to miss. From small towns to big cities, America’s youth mental health crisis is playing out in homes, schools, hospitals and beyond.”
During the meeting, panelists discussed the close connection between youth mental health and maternal and infant health. Maternal and infant health has been an important area of focus in New Jersey throughout the Murphy Administration, and as Governor Murphy’s Chairman’s Initiative has worked to elevate and expand the national conversation about youth mental health, First Lady Tammy Murphy has been leading a parallel initiative focused on improving maternal and infant health.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spoke at the event during a talk moderated by Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, Founder of the AAKOMA Project. Dr. Richard Besser, CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Reina Chiang, a college student and founder of the nonprofit umatter apparel, and First Lady Murphy also served as panelists.
The Surgeon General said he was honored to be here at a time when the mental health of young people is at the center of our focus, and that’s thanks to Governor Murphy and our First Lady of New Jersey, who have really made that happen. on the map as the main issue that it is,” and noted that “the good news is that we are making progress. There is much more work to be done, but I have never in my nearly 30 years in public health seen the kind of scope and momentum around addressing mental health concerns that we have now.”
First Lady Tammy Murphy said, “To give you the picture, you should know, if you don’t already, that the United States is 55th in the world in maternal mortality rates, and once you understand that and dig a little below. on the surface, you will find that the disparities are great.”
Dr. Richard Besser also detailed some of the troubling maternal and infant health statistics, echoing the Surgeon General’s sentiment of hope, noting when “you look around the country and you see all kinds of things going on that have an impact” to address maternal and infant health challenges.
Governor Murphy indicated that Dr. Bessler called him out when his Chairman’s Initiative was launched to say “you better have lived experience represented in all your panels and discussions.” Governor Murphy has included examples of lived experience in every meeting held for his Chairman’s Initiative, including the plenary session held during the Winter Meeting where Reina Chiang shared her lived experience with the panel, emphasizing “we need to hear voices and young people’s perspectives when making policy because you really listen to the patient’s view of what is going to be productive treatment for them and what is going to be the most beneficial treatment for them.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer thanked the Governor and Mrs. Murphy for championing what she sees as two of the most important issues facing the country, and she noted how her budget proposal is prioritizing the issues. Governor Whitmer encouraged other governors to introduce budgets that prioritize issues, and she said she looks forward to hosting the third roundtable to be held in April as part of Governor Murphy’s Chairman’s Initiative.
Hawai’i Governor Josh Green, MD shared some of his first-hand knowledge gained during his many years of service as a physician and expressed concern about the historically low reimbursement levels for behavioral health care.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte shared details about work underway in Montana to increase investment in behavioral health care, as well as efforts to restore community-based mental health care. The governor also talked about the work he previously led in Congress to make 9-8-8 the three-digit number Americans can use to reach the suicide and crisis hotline.
Maryland Governor Wes Moore also talked about state funding for mental health advancement, in addition to sharing details about work happening in Maryland to have an Adverse Childhood Experiences database to have “a better understanding well where are all the kids and what are they up to. .” At the end of the discussion, the moderator Dr. Breland-Noble emphasized the importance of “talking to people with lived experience” and “broadening our scope of who we identify as experts” to ensure that governors and other leaders have a better understanding of the needs of Americans who serve them so they can help implement policies that will better address the issues Governor Murphy is advancing through his Chairman’s Initiative.
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