Rosen, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address K-12 Student Mental Health Crisis

U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the bipartisan Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, which would authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide direct funding assistance to school districts for comprehensive student mental health promotion and suicide prevention efforts. This type of funding assistance from SAMHSA is currently available for colleges and universities, but not for K-12 school districts.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened student mental health challenges that existed before the pandemic, leading to higher rates of student depression, anxiety, and suicide. These challenges have now reached a crisis point, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared a “National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.” 

“As we’ve seen in Nevada and across the country, this pandemic has exacerbated the existing student mental health crisis – leading to an increase in student anxiety, depression, and suicides, tragically including 20 in the Clark County School District alone,” said Senator Rosen. “As we work together to recover from COVID-19, we must prioritize supporting our students and their mental health needs. My bipartisan legislation would allow the federal government to fund comprehensive, equitable, and evidence-based resources and programs in K-12 schools to further promote our students’ mental health, and help prevent student suicides.”

“It is a heartbreaking reality that the mental health crisis in Alaska is surging among our youth. We’ve seen an alarming increase in mental and behavioral health issues and suicide attempts, and unfortunately, there are limited resources available to help the kids in our communities,” said Senator Murkowski. “By allowing funding to go directly to schools to enhance and expand mental and behavioral health services offered to students, those experiencing mental health struggles will have greater access to culturally-relevant services and prevention programs. As we address the current mental health crisis, our children should know their wellbeing and safety is always a priority—and that it’s okay to ask for the help you need.”

 “Alaska has long struggled with one of the highest rates of adolescent suicide in the country, and in just over a decade we’ve seen suicidal ideation among our high school students rise at alarming rates – over 30% for males and nearly 70% for females. That was pre-pandemic,” said Trevor Storrs, President and CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT). “Youth mental health is not a new concern, but has now reached a tipping point that cannot be ignored – and that’s nationwide. ACT applauds Sen. Rosen and Sen. Murkowski’s Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act for establishing critical, foundational supports so desperately needed to empower our youth to seek resources in their darkest moments, and promote resilience for their long-term health and ultimate survival.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and introduced new issues for children and youth. We cannot be satisfied with allowing our children and youth to be educated by mental health through social media and searching online. We cannot be complicit in allowing friends and classmates to suffer in silence. Those of us who know suicide and mental illness are preventable are watching the leaders of this country and waiting for you to do something. Therefore, I am grateful to Senator Murkowski for listening to Alaskans, and introducing the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act.” said Claire Rhyneer, Youth Mental Health Advocate, Eagle River, AK

“I want to congratulate Senator Rosen and Senator Murkowski on their bipartisan efforts to look after the mental health and well-being of our children to reduce their suicide rates,” said Jim Biela, Lead Field Ambassador for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—Alaska Chapter. “With Alaska ranking second in the nation for suicides, the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act is a sure way to provide schools, neighborhoods, and villages with the necessary tools to provide unbiased mental health care through evidence-based services. Congress must take swift action to support and protect our children.”

Under current law, SAMHSA may only provide direct financial support for mental health services to colleges and universities, but not K-12 schools. SAMHSA grant funding authorized by the Rosen-Murkowski bill would support a wide range of mental health evaluation, planning, programming, and suicide prevention strategies in K-12 schools, including:

  • Conducting training programs for students and school staff to promote effective responses to student mental health issues and suicide attempts; and
  • Utilizing social media applications and telehealth to conduct suicide risk and mental health screenings.

Ten percent of funds appropriated by this bill would be reserved for grants to eligible entities that serve Indian Tribes or Tribal organizations.

Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Lori Trahan (MA-3).