State of Mind: 5 Important Mental Health Bills We Can All Agree On

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Key Takeaways

  • The elections are a good time to evaluate what the US government is doing to improve the mental health of the American people.
  • Several live and proposed bills are working to increase access to effective and affordable care.
  • Advocating for mental health reform can go a long way toward creating change.

State of Mind is an ongoing series investigating the legislation and government policies impacting American mental health.

No matter where you live or where you fall on the political spectrum, mental health is one topic that’s important to all of us. With the midterm election this week, it’s a good time to reflect on what the federal government is doing—or trying to do—to expand mental health education and care for all.

It’s no secret that mental health is impacting Americans seemingly more than ever before. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth experience a mental illness in a given year.

So many incredible advocates and organizations are working to better the mental health of people across the United States. Yet, much of the responsibility around funds and awareness falls to the government. Luckily, this is one of very few issues garnering bipartisan support, with several bills in the works that have support from both sides of the political aisle.

“Our national, state, and local governments have the power to invest in programs that support those with mental illness, which will help to destigmatize,” says  Dr. Zishan Khan, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.

“When the government encourages people to learn more about this topic by funding programs that promote mental health awareness, diagnosis, and treatment, it ends up showing its constituents that mental healthcare is not to be ignored and must be properly addressed.” 

Below are five mental health-centered bills to know, four of which are still awaiting passage. 

Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill

In May, senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill to the Senate floor.

Following this, they sent it to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. This bill includes plans to:

  • Reauthorize programs put forward in 2016 by the 21st Century Cares Act.
  • Expand the review process of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) processes.
  • Increase the number of mental health care workers
  • Expand pediatric mental health care
  • Evaluate the parity of insurance companies’ mental health coverage.  

Mental Health Matters Act

At the end of September, the House of Representatives passed the Mental Health Matters Act. It was introduced by congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and subsequently co-sponsored by congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL) and delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP-At Large).

Zishan Khan, MD

When the government encourages people to learn more about this topic by funding programs that promote mental health…it ends up showing its constituents that mental healthcare is not to be ignored and must be properly addressed.

— Zishan Khan, MD

The bill focuses on increasing mental health support for students, families, and educators across the country. Its rationale points to issues such as the pandemic’s negative impact on people’s mental health and that each state fails to have the recommended student-to-social worker or student-to-psychologist ratio.

If enacted into law, this bill would:

  • Direct the Department of Education to direct grants to increase and retain mental health providers in schools, specifically in high-need areas.
  • Guarantee disability accommodation and greater transparency for students with existing disabilities entering higher education.
  • Increase the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce private, employer-sponsored health plans to provide required substance use disorder and mental health benefits. 

Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) introduced the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022 in May. Shortly after, congressman David J. Trone (D-MD) co-sponsored it. It passed the House the following month in an incredible show of bipartisanship at 402-20.

If signed into law, the act would:

  • Ensure over 30 mental health programs—ranging from education to prevention—remained through 2027. These include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline program, Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances Program, and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.
  • Expand substance use disorder care, including removing the stipulation that requires people to use opioids for a year before qualifying for opioid treatment programs.

“Increased awareness will lead to more resources being offered that can assist those that are seeking assistance or could potentially be helped,” Khan says of the need for greater educational programs.

Khan continues, “Eventually, this can lead to those suffering from mental health disorders being able to have greater access to proper health care, housing options, and educational and employment opportunities.”

Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion (RISE) From Trauma Act

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced The RISE From Trauma Act in 2021. If passed, it would accomplish the following:

  • Specific funds could be accessed to create and run pilot projects that better the well-being of children experiencing trauma.
  • Increase the number of trauma-informed frontline workers and law enforcement, thanks to additional training, including at a Department of Justice-run national education center.
  • Establish tertiary prevention projects for hospital patients brought in due to suicide attempts or substance overdoses and primary prevention projects aimed at reducing stress and trauma. 

Kathryn Smerling, PhD, a psychotherapist and family therapy professional

People who have not received mental health assistance or acknowledgment that mental health assistance is as important as getting a proper cast put on are those who may turn to things that could have a solution or be stopped before they start.

— Kathryn Smerling, PhD, a psychotherapist and family therapy professional

Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 

Veteran rates of PTSD are estimated to be between 11% and 20% across the United States. Additionally, according to NAMI, the last quarter of 2020 saw a 25% increase in veteran suicides compared to the same time period in 2019. 

Last year, President Biden signed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 into law. It was named for Sgt. Brandon Ketchum, who committed suicide in 2016 after an Iowa-based Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) center denied him mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“People who have not received mental health assistance or acknowledgment that mental health assistance is as important as getting a proper cast put on are those who may turn to things that could have a solution or be stopped before they start,” says Smerling. 

Congresswoman Cindy Axne (D-IA) first introduced the legislation in April 2021. It took only two months to pass the Senate and be enacted into law. The legislation has two parts.

  • The first requires the VA to create three new centers for the Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) Program.
  • It also requires the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the VA has the resources to support veterans who need mental health services beyond outpatient care.

Veteran organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project endorsed the law’s passage. 

What This Means For You

You don’t have to sit and wait hoping these bills can get passed or make an impact. Your voice and actions matter on and after election day.

“Ultimately, we need to strive to keep our politicians cognizant of the importance of mental health care so that eventually, our society will view those suffering from mental illness as people worthy of our attention, compassion, and humanity,” says Khan.

“It’s important that people aren’t defined by what they are diagnosed with. When we look at someone with a mental illness, we should see them as an actual person and not as a manifestation of a certain diagnosis.”

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