May 12, 2021

House Passes Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act on a Wide Bipartisan Basis

Bill Addresses The Disparities In Access, Care and Study of Mental Health Issues Among People of Color

Today, by a vote of 349-74, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1475, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, bipartisan legislation authored by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and introduced by Watson Coleman and Rep. John Katko (NY-24) 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,” 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.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice that we’ve experienced since last spring have only intensified alarming trends that we were already seeing in suicidal behaviors among Black people,” said Dr. Lindsey. “The passage of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act in the U.S. House of Representatives today brings us one crucial step closer to much-needed funding of resources for the mental health needs of hard-hit communities of color, as well as enabling 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 lives."

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.