Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R – AK), along with Sen. Jacky Rosen (D – NV), introduced a bill that would allow direct federal funding for school districts to promote student mental health and suicide prevention efforts.
The bill is known as the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, and would authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide direct funding assistance to schools. This type of funding is currently available only for colleges and universities.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened mental health among students, leading to higher rates of student depression, anxiety, and suicide, according to a press release on the bill. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared a children’s mental health a “national state of emergency.”
The U.S. Surgeon General in December issued a similar advisory to highlight youth mental health struggles.
“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,” Murkowski said in the press release.
Under current law, SAMHSA funding may only be used for mental health services at colleges and universities. The grant funding authorized by the bill would allow a wide range of mental health evaluations, planning, programming, and suicide prevention tactics in K-12 schools, the press release states.
This includes conducting training programs for students and school staff to enhance response to mental health issues and suicide attempts, and using social media applications for telehealth to conduct suicide risk and mental health screenings. As part of the bill, 10% of the funding would be reserved for grants to entities that serve Indian Tribes or Tribal organizations.
Between 2010 and 2019, the suicide rate in Alaska was significantly higher than the U.S. rate. In 2015, for example, it was more than double, with 27.3 deaths per 100,000, compared to 13.3 nationwide.