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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Bipartisan Mental Health, Substance Use Bill Introduced in Senate

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Yesterday, a bipartisan group of nearly 20 Senators re-introduced a mental health and substance use awareness and treatment improvement bill. The legislation reauthorizes important programs in suicide prevention, mental illness awareness and de-escalation trainings such as Mental Health First Aid, and opioid use disorder treatment services.

The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act was first introduced in 2013, when, despite receiving near-unanimous support in the Senate, it failed to pass after being attached to a gun violence bill. This year’s version was authored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) – Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee respectively. Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Awareness Training – Authorizes grants to states and other entities to train teachers, appropriate school personnel, emergency services personnel, and others to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and to de-escalate crises, using training curricula such as Mental Health First Aid.
  • Opioid Use Disorder Treatment – Directs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to leverage current initiatives to increase awareness of FDA-approved treatments for opioid use disorders, with a report to be prepared on those efforts, including on “the role of adherence in the treatment of opioid use disorders and recommendations on priorities and strategies to address co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illness.”
  • Suicide Prevention – Solidifies the role of the federally supported suicide technical assistance center in providing information and training on prevention, surveillance and interventions for all age groups; reauthorizes the Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Strategies grants with a continuation option for states; and reauthorizes the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services on Campuses grant program.
  • Children’s Recovery – Reauthorizes the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative and supports data collection and analysis, among other provisions.

“This bill will help those suffering from mental health conditions by answering two key questions: Who needs help? And who is there to provide that help?” said Senator Alexander. “By helping teachers and other individuals recognize the signs of mental illness and by supporting researchers and doctors working to improve care and treatment for children who go through traumatic events, this bill will help see that Americans suffering from mental illness can get the support they need as soon as possible.”

“As we’ve seen far too often over the years in Washington state, we have absolutely to make sure that families and communities—and especially our young people—receive the support they need when facing mental health challenges,” said Senator Murray. “A person’s mental health is every bit as critical as their physical health, and I’m pleased to be working on this bipartisan legislation with Chairman Alexander to strengthen mental health awareness, prevention, and resources for communities in my home state and across the country.”

Cosponsors of the legislation include Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).