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Harkin, Alexander Urge Senate to Pass Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today urged the Senate to pass the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, a mental health package passed by the Committee this morning that reauthorizes and improves programs administered by both the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions. Earlier this year, the Committee held a hearing to assess the state of America’s mental health care system and to discuss ways to improve access to services for those who need assistance.  

“One in four Americans is affected by mental illness, which is why expanding access to treatments and supports is so critical. There is bipartisan consensus that we must do more to ensure that Americans are getting the care that they need to live long and healthy lives,” Harkin said. “This bill is the product of a collaboration between myself, Ranking Member Alexander, and many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act will improve and strengthen the mental health care system in our communities and in our schools.”

“This bill takes several steps to improve the way we help young Americans with mental illness and is the result of many hours of work by both Republican and Democratic senators to find smart and efficient solutions to meeting mental health needs at school and in our communities, so our children get the help they need as early as possible,” Alexander said. “I urge the Senate to pass the legislation.”

Title I of the legislation focuses on school settings, by promoting school-wide prevention through the development of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and encourages school-based mental health partnerships, while Title II of the bill focuses on suicide prevention, helping children recover from traumatic events, mental health awareness for teachers and other individuals, and assessing barriers to integrating behavioral health and primary care. This bipartisan legislation makes targeted improvements designed to improve federal efforts to assist state and local communities in addressing the mental health needs of its citizens.

In addition to Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Alexander, cosponsors of the legislation include HELP Committee Senators Franken, Enzi, Bennet, Murkowski, Baldwin, Roberts, Hagan, Isakson, Murphy, and Kirk.

The legislation is supported by a broad array of advocates and outside groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychological Association, the Children’s Hospitals Association, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, Mental Health America, the Montefiore Medical Center, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Boards, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National PTA, the National School Boards Association, and the School Social Work Association of America.

A section-by-section of the legislation can be seen here.