A recent spate of mass shootings, including an attack at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 young children and two teachers, has thrust the issue of mental health back into the national spotlight.
“There is a serious mental health crisis among young people in this country.” President Joe Biden said last week in a primetime speech on gun violence, in which he called for an assault weapons ban and other reforms as lawmakers try to find a way forward. compromise. “We have to do something about it.”
What is needed, he said, are more school counselors and nurses, additional mental health services for students and teachers and more resources to help protect children from media harm. social.
“It’s important,” Biden said. “I just told you what I would do. The question now is what will Congress do?”
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican John Cornyn, is considering a gun reform package that would include funding for mental health. Negotiations are ongoing, with Murphy saying he is ‘more confident than ever’ that a compromise can be reached, but Democrats need 10 Republican senators to approve any gun legislation to overcome the 60-year filibuster room voice.
While those gun talks remain up in the air, several congressional committees have been laying the groundwork for months on bipartisan packages to improve mental health services and tackle addiction after the coronavirus pandemic put highlight the need for increased access to care.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Finance Committee set a goal in February to present comprehensive legislation this summer, although the two committees have not yet published more detailed schedule.
The Senate Finance Committee released its first set of draft policies related to telehealth services on May 26, and said additional draft policies may be released in the coming weeks.
Also in May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee proposed a package that would reauthorize more than 30 mental health and addiction programs that would expire this fall. The legislation, titled Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022, has been introduced in the House but has yet to come to a full vote.
Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Welfare, said that in his 20 years of advocacy, he had never seen Congress devote “so much time, energy and attention to mental health issues.
“I’m confident that a bill will pass this year,” Ingoglia told ABC News. “And then the second question, which is really important, is what is its extent or size?”
Sarah Corcoran, vice president of government relations at Guide Consulting Services, said a package “would have to be substantial enough to really transform the system from where we are to where it needs to be to meet the current level of needs. “.
Late last year, several organizations representing child health professionals declared a national youth mental health emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that ER visits for suicide attempts among teenage girls increased by more than 50% at the start of the pandemic. US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told the Senate Finance Committee during a hearing earlier this year that the pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on the mental health of young Americans.
Many of the proposals discussed by the Senate and House panels cover what lawmakers focused on in the wake of the Uvalde shooting: youth mental health and school services.
Republicans in particular have favored measures such as mental health funding and increased school safety as talks of possible gun control reforms continue on Capitol Hill, though supporters say that the rhetoric blaming the shootings solely on mental illness is harmful and inaccurate.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray, chair of the HELP committee, said she wanted the package to help “schools and communities meet the mental health needs of children”.
Other priorities Murray outlined at a hearing in March include screening and preventing suicide, reducing drug overdose deaths and addressing the mental health needs of new mothers.
The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, has identified five areas requiring potential legislative action, including strengthening mental health care for children and youth, expanding telehealth services and strengthening the behavioral health workforce. Republican and Democratic members of the panel teamed up to address each area.
Draft policies released last week would remove Medicare’s in-person requirement for those seeking mental health treatment by phone or virtual health and encourage states to use their Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to better addressing behavioral health needs in schools through telehealth – a step that could bring relief to those living in mental health deserts. An ABC analysis found that 75% of rural counties nationwide have no mental health providers, or less than 50 providers per 100,000 people.
President Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted days after Uvalde’s shooting that it was “high time for a comprehensive approach to addressing the mental health crisis.”