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Bills to provide mental health support were at the center of the House this week. Photo: Vitalii Abakumov/Getty Images

The House of Representatives gets serious on mental health

The chamber passed a package of bills focused on mental health support and suicide prevention.

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On Friday, April 30, the Biden Administration released a Proclamation on National Mental Health Awareness Month, emphasizing the importance of mental health awareness and education, as well as the impact that COVID-19 has had on the nation’s collective mental well-being. 

President Biden also made a point to highlight the clear disparities that exist within marginalized communities when it comes to healthcare.

“We must also address the disparities that underserved communities, especially communities of color, face and work to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality, and evidence-based mental health care,” the proclamation reads.

Biden made a commitment that he and his administration will work to advance best practices in suicide prevention and improve “non-punitive” crisis responses. 

On Wednesday, May 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a large package of mental health and suicide prevention bills in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, released a statement expressing gratitude for their actions. 

“As an organization dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide, we would like to thank the U.S. House of Representatives for bringing vital pieces of legislation focused on mental health and suicide prevention to the floor and for supporting the passage of leislation that can save lives,” his statement read. 

These pieces of legislation include The STANDUP Act, Mental Health Services for Students Act, Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act, Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, The Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, and more. 

The STANDUP Act would require state, tribal and local educational agencies receiving grant funding for priority mental-health needs to establish and implement evidence-based suicide awareness and prevention training policies. 

Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in coordination with the Department of Education and Bureau of Indian Education, must offer educational agencies with best practices to conduct these training sessions. 

The Mental Health Services for Students Act supports school-based mental health services, such as screening, treatment and outreach programs through a state educational agency grant program known as Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education).

The Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act would authorize SAMHSA to award grants to fund creative approaches to appropriate follow-on care for people experiencing an acute mental health episode and present for care in an emergency department. 

The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act would tackle the health disparities that Biden mentioned in his April proclamation through various grants and programs. 

The Act focuses on support in schools, scientific research, and increasing funding in existing programs. It would authorize grants to improve cultural competence curricula so students training to be mental health professionals will be able to properly treat youth, regardless of race or ethnicity. 

It would also provide $100 million to the National Institute of Health to partner with communities and support clinical research, including studies on racial and ethnic disparities in both physical and mental health. 

The Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, introduced by Reps. Don Beyer and Adam Kinzinger, would set up an educational campaign to raise awareness for a three-digit suicide lifeline phone number, suicide prevention resources, and more effective discourse on how to prevent suicide.

“Our bipartisan legislation is designed to help change the culture around suicide so that all Americans know to engage rather than ignore individuals who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts,” said Beyer. 

Beyer is also the co-chair of the bipartisan House Suicide Prevention Task Force, and helped to establish the 9-8-8 National Suicide Hotline. This Act would help raise awareness of this crucial resource while also promoting engagement techniques proven to help prevent suicide. 

Continuing his statement, Gebbia praised the sponsoring lawmakers and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for their leadership in passing these pieces of legislation. 

“I urge the Senate to prioritize the passage of these bills, so that increased access to mental health and substance use care and suicide prevention resources are more readily available to support patients, families, and providers,” Gebbia said.

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