WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today led their Senate colleagues in introducing the bicameral Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act
. This bill would address growing issues of suicide and mental health facing young people, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged communities that have disproportionately faced disparities in access to mental health treatment and outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act expands minority mental health access by supporting scientific research and increasing funding for existing federal programs. This legislation also provides grant funding over a period of five years to establish inter-professional health care teams at community health centers, rural health clinics, and behavioral health programs that predominantly serve people of color, and to develop cultural competency educational curricula for health professionals to help bridge the gap in racial and ethnic minority mental health disparities.
 
“If we, as elected officials, truly believe that today’s young people are the future of our great nation, then we must do everything in our power to address the unmet mental health challenges jeopardizing that future, especially in minority communities,” said Sen. Menendez. “This issue requires more than rhetoric; it demands decisive action. This legislation ensures that public health agencies prioritize tackling issues of mental health and suicide, as well as longstanding disparities that exist in mental health access for communities of color that continue to bear the disproportionate brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is my sincere hope that together, with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we can finally address this racial inequity in our mental health care system.” 
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the deep-seated disparities that Black and Brown communities face in access and outcomes related to all types of health care, including mental health care,” said Sen. Booker. “As we work to address and dismantle structural racial inequities in our health care system, we must prioritize expanding access to mental health care and services. The Mental Health Equity Act is an important step forward to ensuring that quality, affordable mental health care is accessible in and to every community.” 
 
“Ever since COVID-19 hit, Nevadans from every corner of our state have been talking to me about the mental health challenges that they and their families are facing—and students especially have suffered from the isolation of this pandemic,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “Young people in our communities of color face unique challenges in accessing mental and behavioral health care, and we need to make sure they have access to the mental health support they need. I’ll continue working in the Senate to destigmatize mental health issues and make sure everyone in Nevada can get care if they’re struggling.”
 
In the Senate, the bill has been cosponsored by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
  
“Amidst a pandemic that has upended school and social lives across the country, it has never been more critical to ensure communities have the resources needed to help young people struggling with mental illness,” said Sen. Carper. “This legislation will expand access to mental health services and provide robust funding for research on youth mental health disparities. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill that will directly support the critical work being done at Delaware’s Federally Qualified Health Centers, including Westside, La Red and Henrietta Johnson. I want to thank Senator Menendez for his work and leadership on this vital issue.”
 
"The mental health care disparities for communities of color in this country are shameful, and the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis has only exacerbated them,” said Sen. Bennet. “We need to improve access to mental and behavioral health treatment and resources for communities of color in Colorado and across the country, and I'll work with my colleagues to get this critical bill across the finish line."
 
“This important bill brings us closer to ensuring every American has access to affordable mental health care,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Access to this essential service is critical, but too often out of reach for communities of color and low-income Americans. Bolstering availability of affordable mental health care must be of the highest priority, especially as our country recovers from this health and economic crisis.”
 
“Too many young people—especially in communities of color—face barriers in accessing mental health care,” said Sen. Padilla. “As we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and address health care inequities, we need to also bridge the gap in racial and ethnic minority mental health disparities. Improving access to mental health care for our young people, and all who need it, must be a national priority.”
 
“New Mexicans deserve access to quality, affordable mental health care. This Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m proud to introduce the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act to tackle the inequities in mental health care experienced by communities of color and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Luján. “Mental health care is essential and life-saving, and I’ll continue working to ensure that New Mexicans from all walks of life can access these services.”
 
This bill was developed in response to the Congressional Black Caucus’s (CBC) report on racial disparities in mental health care, and is the Senate companion to Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12) and John Katko’s (R-N.Y.-24) Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, which passed nearly two weeks ago in the House of Representatives.
 
“The crisis of climbing youth suicide rates existed before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis but has no doubt intensified when so many minority youth have lost friends and family members as the coronavirus has decimated their communities,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “This bill garnered vast bipartisan support in the House and I’m grateful to Senator Menendez for taking up the effort in the Senate to pass this important legislation to combat this growing crisis and see to it that all of our youth, no matter their background, have access to the mental health care they need.”
  
“Following passage of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Healthcare Act in the House, I’m pleased to see this legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Rep. Katko. “Studies show that minority communities suffer disproportionally from the lack of access to quality mental healthcare. This bipartisan bill takes aim at these inequities by providing funding to expand the pipeline of providers in underserved areas. The bill also provides vital support to improve outreach and training programs designed to combat disparities and reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health disorders.”
 
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, with 72,000 people aged 12-17 suffering from depression in just New Jersey alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also found that suicide remains the second leading cause of death among teens aged 15-19, with the suicide death rate among Black youth increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group according to a report published by the CBC
 
Furthermore, according to the AAMC, Black and Latino children have witnessed more illness and death during the pandemic than other children, and during this same period the CDC found that Black and Latino groups across all ages are reporting higher rates of symptoms of anxiety and depression than their white counterparts. The rates among youth have been even more alarming, which exhibited a 24% increase in the proportion of children going to emergency health departments for mental health care in the first six months of the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019.
 
The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Equity Act would:
 
·       Establish and fund inter-professional health care teams to provide behavioral health care;
·       Authorize grants to develop cultural competency educational curricula so students training to be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists will be able to properly treat youth, regardless of race or ethnicity; 
·       Authorize $650 million to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to enhance research into addressing mental and physical health disparities;
·       Authorize an additional $100 million to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to partner with communities and support clinical research, including clinical research on racial or ethnic disparities in physical and mental health; 
·       Reauthorize the Minority Fellowship Program for 5 years and nearly double the current authorized funding level; and
·       Direct HHS to establish a Commission on the Effects of Smartphone and Social Media Usage on Adolescents.
 
The bill is also supported by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association, Sandy Hook Promise, Trevor Project, Mental Health America, National Hispanic Medical Association, and Mental Health Association in New Jersey.
 
“AFSP thanks Senators Menendez, Cortez Masto, and Booker for their leadership in reintroducing the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act,”said Robert Gebbia, Chief Executive Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “We support this legislation because it includes vital investments in education, training, and research, and the expansion of programs that will help address the increase in youth suicide in Black and other marginalized populations. Mental health issues and risk for suicide do not discriminate, and so it is imperative that the Senate take action and swiftly pass this important piece of legislation.”
 
“By advancing the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act to the Senate, Congress has taken an important first step to addressing disparities in care that have been devastating for the mental health of young Black people and other BIPOC,” said American Psychiatric Association President Vivian Pender, M.D. “The provisions of this bill support the kind of tangible action needed to meaningfully confront these longstanding issues, including providing substantial funding for cultural competency training, research and outreach efforts to the communities most affected by structural racism that experience persistent health inequities.”
 
"?We applaud the advancement of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act to the Senate during Mental Health Awareness Month. As the ongoing COVID-19 crisis ?continues to exacerbate already-rising rates of depression and suicide among young people –particularly among Black youth, who are now twice as likely to die by suicide than their white peers ?– it is more important than ever to provide equitable access to mental health care," said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. "Th?is important piece of legislation ?will provide necessary funding to address the disparities in access to mental health care and support research into effective interventions that equitably address youth mental health issues."
 
“The Trevor Project's 2021 National Survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates of attempting suicide than their white peers in the past year. Yet, nearly half of all LGBTQ youth could not access the mental health care they desired. This bill will help break down barriers and improve access to culturally competent mental health care," said Sam Brinton (they/them pronouns), VP of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. 
 
The text of the bill can be downloaded HERE.
 
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