Napolitano Recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month
(WASHINGTON, DC) Today, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-El Monte) recognized Mental Health Awareness Month, delivering the following speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:
“Mr. Speaker, I bring to the floor today a topic very near and dear to my heart, and I rise today to recognize the whole month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. I Co-Chair the Congressional Mental Health Caucus along with my Republican colleague John Katko of New York, which works to educate Members of Congress and their staff on the work still needed to expand mental health access and protections and to reduce stigma.
“The topic of mental health in Congress is building momentum to spur action to increase the delivery of mental health services—something I have worked to do for over two decades. This year alone, our House Mental Health Caucus has grown from 47 Members of Congress to 92! However, mental health still affects millions of Americans of all ages, genders, and races and remains woefully funded and misunderstood.
“Suicide currently plagues our veteran community. Roughly 20 veterans per day take their own lives according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2005-2016 Department of Veterans Affairs’ Suicide Data Report found that the veteran suicide rate is 1.5 times greater than the non-veteran population, with over 6,000 veterans dying by suicide each year.
“In the Hispanic community approximately 1 in 10 individuals with a mental illness use mental health services from a general health provider, while only 1 in 20 receive such services from a mental health specialist. Machismo and other cultural tendencies are preventing our loved ones from being open and honest about what might be troubling them. We must continue to let our loved ones know there is absolutely zero shame in asking for help and that seeking support is a sign of strength.
“We have also seen that 1 in 4 Latina adolescent girls report contemplating suicide, a rate higher than any other demographic. The increasing diversity of our country underlines both the need and importance of accessing culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
“The 2018 election focused on healthcare and the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). One of the ACA’s most critical successes was increased mental health services and delivery. Insurance companies for decades denied coverage for patients needing mental health services. We inserted provisions to end this appalling practice and made mental health an essential part of basic coverage, including screenings and other preventive services. Together we made sure that no American is discriminated against when seeking mental health care, and that mental health and substance use disorders are covered equal to physical illnesses, like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure. As we headed into 2019 these reforms and the ACA must be strengthened so more Americans seek the life-saving care they need.
“We must also continue to look at what is being done locally to support access to mental health services. In 2001 Pacific Clinics and I started a school-based mental health program with a half a million dollars in SAMSHA seed money. The program began in 3 middle schools and 1 high school. Schools were reluctant at first because of stigma and the fear of being called ‘crazy schools.’ We kept pushing forward, and the program has since grown to 35 schools with a waiting list. This program serves as a model for H.R. 1109, the Mental Health Services for Students Act, which would provide $200 million for 100 school-based mental health programs nationwide. Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota has also introduced a Senate companion, S. 1122, and we are grateful for her support. We knew that if we started early with children we could help them succeed and save lives, but stigma remains a big barrier preventing many parents from getting their children the care they need. We all need to continue sharing the message that it is always ok to seek help. If we address issues early we can help students AND families succeed in and out of the classroom.
“The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the County Department of Mental Health have been instrumental in the success of this program. The Department of Mental Health took on funding the program when SAMHSA funding ended in 2009. Seeing the success of this program, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn in January 2019 directed the Department of Mental Health to identify funding and to develop a county-wide plan to provide school based mental health services. In April 2019, the Board of Supervisors formally adopted a plan to provide funding for pilot sites, to hire additional mental health professionals, and to develop a Mental Health First Aid pilot program that would educate students.
“Beyond stigma reduction and educating loved ones of warning signs and symptoms, we need to ensure we have a reliable workforce to be able to deliver life-saving services to all in need, regardless of ZIP code. There is a national shortage of trained mental health professionals and the California Future Health Workforce Commission has stated that without dramatic policy changes, ‘California will have 41% fewer psychiatrists and 11% fewer psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical counselors, and social workers than it will need by 2030.’
“Recognizing this I re-introduced H.R. 2431, the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act of 2019, with my Mental Health Caucus Co-Chair John Katko. This bill would expand the mental health workforce by providing loan reimbursement to mental health professionals who commit to working in underserved areas.
“Our work continues but cannot be limited to Congress. I encourage all to get involved, educate yourselves and share resources with friends and family. If you see someone that has fallen on hard times, help them out and, if needed, refer them to mental health services. Together we can continue to build a movement and eventually live in a world where there is no stigma.”
# # #