New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Congressman John Katko (NY-24) announced the reintroduction of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act (H.R. 1475). The Act was originally introduced in 2019 following a report from the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health chaired by Congresswoman Watson Coleman. The report – “Ring the Alarm: the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America.” – outlined the state of Black youth mental health and detailed policy recommendations for consideration by Congress. In 2020, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act passed the House by voice vote but did not get a vote in the Senate.

In 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics published a report that found that for the first time in the history of such research, the rate of suicides for Black children between the ages of five and 12 has exceeded that of White children, and more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved Black children. A 2019 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics found that self-reported suicide attempts rose in Black teenagers, even as they fell in other groups; and further analysis of the data found these attempts rose 73% between 1997 and 2017.

The Emergency Taskforce sought to identify causes and solutions, and empowered a working group of academic and practicing experts led by the AAP Pediatrics study’s lead author, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, Executive Director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

The bill would authorize $805 million in grants and other funding to support research, improve the pipeline of culturally competent providers, build outreach programs that reduce stigma, and develop a training program for providers to effectively manage disparities.

“The crisis of climbing youth suicide rates existed before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis but has no doubt intensified as so many minority youth have lost friends and family members as the coronavirus has decimated their communities,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “I’m grateful to Congressman Katko for joining me in the effort to combat this crisis and see to it that all of our youth, no matter their background, have access to the mental health care they need.”

“I’m proud to join this bipartisan, bicameral effort to promote access to mental healthcare services for minority communities in Central New York and across the country,” said Rep. Katko. “Studies show that minority communities suffer disproportionally from the lack of access to quality mental healthcare. Our 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.”

The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act is endorsed by The American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association, The Trevor Project, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, Sandy Hook Promise, The American Association of Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, The Jed Foundation, and the Mental Wealth Alliance.

“The American Psychological Association commends Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman for her commitment to disrupting longstanding mental health inequities affecting communities of color,” said American Psychological Association President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD. “The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated, more than ever, the breadth of these disparities and the toll on the mental health of Americans. APA calls on Congress to swiftly enact the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act to help provide equitable access to needed care to stem the growing mental health crisis.”

“AFSP thanks Congresswoman Watson Coleman and Congressman Katko 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 Congress take action and swiftly pass this important piece of legislation.”

“Racism is a mental health issue that undergirds trauma so many young people have experienced,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America. “Trauma paints a direct line to mental health conditions. Mental Health America supports the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act because it directs necessary resources for researching and addressing trauma, emotional disturbances, and mental health conditions in Black and brown children early on, before stage four (crisis).”

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