Rep. Wild Announces Two Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bills
WASHINGTON – As part of National Suicide Prevention Month, today U.S. Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) hosted a press conference and “The Rippling Impact of Suicide” roundtable discussion with experts in mental health and suicide prevention, survivors, and several of her colleagues to announce two new pieces of mental health legislation. The Greater Mental Health Access Act and Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act are designed to create policies and programs to improve mental health care and suicide prevention programs for all Americans and provide support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
“I often say that I can only make sense of losing my life partner if I can save someone else’s life, and, just as importantly, if I can save another family from going through what my family has gone through these past few months,” Wild said. “I’m going to stay focused on finding legislative solutions, and I’m asking all of you to join me in that effort and to shed light on this cause to help truly break the stigma around suicide.”
Currently, 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental illness, and in 2017 more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide. This number has continued to grow in almost every segment of the population. Since the loss of a close family member to suicide in May, Wild has been a strong advocate for substantive and meaningful mental health legislation. Her two new legislative initiatives will focus on efforts to strengthen access to mental health services and suicide prevention planning on college campuses, expand mental health care and suicide prevention, and address the needs of those who have lost a loved one to suicide or are caring for someone who struggles with suicidal ideation.
To announce these bills today Wild was joined in a press conference by Fred Stokes, former NFL player and host of the LINTBrother podcast; Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Schlossberg; Rep. Don Beyer (VA-08), and Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06); John Madigan, Jr., American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and Chris Maxwell, American Association of Suicidology.
“Congresswoman, you’ve saved thousands of lives already, just by stepping up and admitting the fact that ‘hey I’m hurting, I’ve had hurt, and I’ve had loss.’…Yes, I have my own story. Many years ago, I could have not been here.” Stokes said. “I’ve been a part of teams, I played on the NFL for 10 years, I’ve been on three different teams. I played defense and there were times when I could come off the field and rest and let the offense due their thing and let the special teams do their part. And that’s what it was, it was a team…and I am grateful and humbled to be a part of this team effort to [change how we talk about mental health and suicide].”
“No one should be embarrassed to say that they are 1 in 5 Americans that suffer from mental illness,” Schlossberg said. “It is clear that we need to do more. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college aged students and according to a survey from the American Psychological Association, 18-25 year olds are experiencing rates of depression and anxiety like never before. All of the mental health and suicide trends are moving in the wrong direction and that trend is particularly acute among our youngest. These are individuals with the most potential. They are among our most vulnerable. We must give them the tools they need to lead a life of recovery.”
“It is time to treat suicide like any other life-threatening emergency and break the stigma around mental health,” Moulton said. “There is a lot that we have to do but first we need to simply make it easier to get help. When your house is burning down in the middle of the night, you don’t have to go find a phonebook to look up the number to call, you just call 911. It should be the same if you wake up in the middle of the night with a mental health crisis, or you get a call from a friend who is on the verge of committing suicide and you need to help.”
“This is an epidemic,” Beyer said. “Obviously it doesn’t just impact people that died by suicide, but everyone that loved them, everyone in their communities and their families. In the times that we have been working on this, we have realized that this affects virtually every family.”
Following the press conference, Wild led “The Rippling Impact of Suicide,” a roundtable discussion on suicide and mental health with experts. Wild was joined at the roundtable by seven of her colleagues in the House of Representatives and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi along with Stokes; Schlossberg; Maxwell; Dese’Rae Stage, creator of Live Through This; Dr. Paul Nestadt, a member of the American Psychiatric Association and practicing psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital; and several other advocates and experts to discuss their own personal and professional experiences and help to identify policy solutions to the growing suicide crisis in America.
Wild is also working to ensure suicide prevention is included in vital legislation where it is often overlooked – which is why she included an amendment to the Dignity in Aging Act, her bill reauthorize the Older Americans Act, that added “screening for suicide risk” to the disease prevention and health promotion services. The Older Americans Act passed the Education and Labor Committee unanimously earlier this week.
More on Greater Mental Health Access Act:
Lack of access to mental health services has, in part, contributed to an increase in the suicide rate in the United States, which is now the tenth leading cause of death in the country. Suicide of a loved one often results in “suicide contagion” – where surviving family members struggling to cope with loss are at a 65% increased risk of attempting suicide. There is an immediate need to improve access to mental health services for loss survivors as 28 million residents are uninsured and 60% of adults and 50% of children in need of mental health services were unable to receive such services in the previous calendar year. The Greater Mental Health Access Act would establish a special enrollment period for family members of an individual who has died by suicide, and would create a competitive grant program through which services and support are provided to family members and friends. This bill treats the death of a family member by suicide as a “qualifying life event,” through which surviving family members may enroll in or change their health insurance plans to cover mental health services. Such enrollment or change can occur regardless of whether the “qualifying life event” occurred during the open enrollment period or not.
This legislation is endorsed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Association of Suicidology.
More on the Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention on College Campuses Act:
In 2018, more than 300,000 college students attempted suicide and 1,400 died by suicide. Currently, in the United States suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15-24, with 6,252 deaths by suicide in 2017. The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention on College Campuses Act helps fill the gap in unmet mental health needs of college students by requiring the Department of Education to coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage institutions of higher education to develop and implement comprehensive mental health and suicide preventions plans.
This legislation is endorsed by the Trevor Project, The Jed Foundation (JED), Active Minds, and the American Association of Suicidology.
“According to The Trevor Project's National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, more than half of transgender and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide and 71% of respondents reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year,” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. “The Enhancing Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Through Campus Planning Act will begin to truly support all students in higher education. The Trevor Project is proud to support this legislation and will seek to ensure every student is given the mental health support they need to be successful."
“The Jed Foundation is supportive of the bill that Representative Wild has introduced through which the Secretary of Education would promote that colleges and universities have comprehensive annual campus mental health and suicide prevention plans,” said John MacPhee, the Executive Director of The Jed Foundation. “With more than 21 million young adults in higher education, colleges and universities have a tremendous opportunity to support the mental health of students and to help identify and connect to care those students who may be struggling.”
“Now, more than ever, students need comprehensive mental health support from their colleges and universities,” said Alison Malmon, the Founder and Executive Director of Active Minds. “Campuses have indicated an interest and willingness to implement suicide prevention plans. We fully support Congresswoman Susan Wild's bill, which elevates the role of the Department of Education in promoting positive student mental health."
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