September 29, 2020

House Passes Legislation to Reduce Mental Health Care Disparities for Youth

Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, drafted at completion of the CBC Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, authorizes than $805 million to improve access

(September 29, 2020) – Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5469, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, legislation authored by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman to address the disparities in access, care and study of mental health issues among people of color. The bill, written following nine months of work by the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, authorizes $805 million in grants and other funding to support research, improving the pipeline of culturally competent providers, build outreach programs that reduce stigma, and develop a training program for providers to effectively manage disparities.

"This is a huge step, and one we’ve been building toward since launching the emergency taskforce in April of 2019. When I began this work, it was out of a desire to bring federal resources to bear in what was clearly becoming a crisis – resources for awareness, for research, for education and more. That’s what the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act is all about,” said Rep. Watson Coleman, who chaired the Emergency Taskforce. “We put together a working group of experts, released a report, and finally introduced this bill to ring the alarm and force everyone to pay attention. This bill will give us the tools to address mental health for all communities, and I’m grateful to see it move on to 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 percent 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.

"Suicide deaths and behaviors rising in black children and teens in ways that we have not seen before, and youth of color are especially vulnerable to mental health challenges as our nation grapples with the twin pandemics that are hitting our communities especially hard: COVID-19 and racism," said Dr. Lindsey.  "The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 is a crucial first step to address these trends, bring much-needed funding and resources for all youth, and direct resources toward more clinical research and interventions. We are grateful to Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, the bill’s co-sponsors and the Congressional Black Caucus for taking action to save young lives."

Companion legislation has been introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV).

“The mental and emotional toll COVID-19 has taken on Americans has further exposed the long-standing racial disparities that exist for communities of color when it comes to accessing affordable, high-quality mental health services and treatment,” said Sen. Menendez. “We introduced the Mental Health Equity Act because we’ve got to change that. Today’s House vote bring us closer to ensuring every young person, regardless of race or zip code, can get the mental health care they may need. Now the Senate must finish the job.

“Race, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics should never have an impact on a person’s quality of care or access to care,” said Sen. Booker. “Disparities and inequities in health are rampant in America and we need to study promising interventions that address mental health and health equity in a holistic, multidimensional manner.”

“America has traditionally underfunded treatment for mental and behavioral health,” said Sen. Cortez Masto, “which is why I have been working so hard on legislation to address mental health care, especially for communities of color that suffer disproportionately from lack of access to care. I’m delighted that the House has passed this critical legislation to get Nevadans the support they need, especially at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on Americans’ mental health. I look forward to continuing to work in the Senate on putting into place federal solutions like this.”

To view a fact sheet on the bill, click here. To view the text of the bill passed in the House today, click here. To learn more about the Emergency Taskforce, click here. To read the report issued by the Emergency Taskforce, click here.