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Remarks to SAMHSA Town Hall on Helping Children Who Experience Trauma

Alex M. Azar II
SAMHSA Town Hall on Helping Children Who Experience Trauma
May 10, 2018
Washington, D.C.

As we have seen throughout tonight’s program, trauma of various kinds can take an incredible toll on our children. And trauma is not just a significant risk factor for mental health and substance use disorders, but for physical health challenges as well.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Dr. [Elinore] McCance-Katz, for that introduction, and thank you everyone for joining us here this evening.

I am delighted to be here to celebrate National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. It’s an opportunity to mark important work being done to serve America’s children and youth, and in particular, those who have experienced trauma and have mental health needs.

In my first few months back at HHS, I have been constantly reminded of just how important behavioral health is to our mission of improving the health and well-being of every American.

All of you—our medical, mental health and social service professionals; providers; researchers; advocates; and most importantly, our family and youth leaders—are working together to improve the mental health of America’s children, families and communities.

I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to work on these issues with Dr. McCance-Katz, America’s first assistant secretary for mental health and substance use. Dr. McCance-Katz is also the first psychiatrist to run SAMHSA, and we are so proud of the work she has done to bring a scientific, evidence-based approach to issues like the opioid crisis and serious mental illness.

Both of those challenges can often be fed by trauma. As we have seen throughout tonight’s program, trauma of various kinds can take an incredible toll on our children. And trauma is not just a significant risk factor for mental health and substance use disorders, but for physical health challenges as well.

The good news is that, as you have heard and seen tonight, there are effective ways to help children and youth heal and recover from trauma, and we are working to help these children receive the care they need. Communities across our nation are implementing trauma-informed approaches to better respond to the needs of children and their families.

Everyone can chip in to this effort: mental health and primary health providers, teachers, coaches, mentors, neighbors, faith leaders . . . everybody.

We are grateful to have some wonderful role models here tonight, who exhibit the kind of leadership we need. The spouses of governors and members of tribal communities and nations who have joined us are champions in making child-serving systems more trauma-informed. 

In just a few moments, we will recognize 18 first spouses from states across the nation, six of whom are with us tonight, as well as the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, representing tribal nations across the country, for their innovative work.

As I mentioned, focusing on mental health has always been a priority for HHS, but for a few particular reasons, I believe we have to make it more of a priority than ever.

For one, the opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis we have seen in American history. President Trump’s bold decision to declare the crisis a nationwide public health emergency brought a new level of focus to our work across the federal government.

At HHS, we are addressing not just the need for prevention services and addiction treatment, but also the impact that the crisis has had on human services programs and providers. Some states have seen the numbers of children in their foster system due to parental substance abuse double or triple in recent years—this is a true emergency, and I have impressed that upon leaders across all of HHS’s divisions.

Serious emotional disturbance and serious mental illness also remain huge challenges for our country. Far too many Americans struggling with these challenges do not receive the treatment they need, with tragic consequences. In fact, of the 10 million Americans with a serious mental illness, 1 in 10 of them will spend time in prison each year.

On top of that, one of my other priorities as Secretary, to transform our healthcare system into one that pays for value, also requires advancing mental health. Integrating physical and behavioral health, we all know, can pay real dividends in improved overall well-being.

Thankfully, we have seen progress in our mental health policies in recent years. The 21st Century Cures Act, which created the position Dr. McCance-Katz now holds, expanded the tools we have for confronting both serious mental illness and the opioid crisis.

Better mental health care will be such a boon for America’s children, who truly are a top priority for this administration.

On Monday, I was privileged to attend the unveiling of the First Lady’s “Be Best” initiative, which will focus on the opioid crisis, social media use, and overall well-being of America’s children.

Mrs. Trump has a great love for children, and we look forward to working with her and state first ladies and so many other leaders across this country to formulate policies that put our children first.

As President Trump said earlier this year, “Every child deserves to grow up in a safe community surrounded by a loving family, and to have a future filled with opportunity and with hope.” 

I think we can all agree on that vision and I look forward to working together with all of you to make it a reality. Thank you again so much for joining us tonight.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on May 10, 2018