Reps. Bustos, Wild introduce legislation to prevent suicide as mental illness reaches epidemic level

Reps. Bustos, Wild introduce legislation to prevent suicide as mental illness reaches epidemic level

U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Susan Wild (D-PA) hope to address the nation’s rising mental health crisis through legislation that would direct states to invest existing federal funding into crisis care services.

Bustos and Wild introduced the Crisis Care Improvement and Suicide Prevention Act of 2020 Thursday. The bill would direct states to use five percent of their federal Mental Health Block Grant into upgrading crisis care programs and strategies.

The bill comes as mental illness in the United States reaches epidemic proportions in the wake of both the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Make no mistake, we have a mental health crisis in our country, and the current pandemic has laid bare a desperate need for access to mental health resources and support,” Bustos said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted our way of life, created additional stress, and made us all concerned for our physical health. But as we adapt, we cannot neglect the underlying opioid crisis and the importance of our mental health. That’s why I put forward this crucial legislation today to bolster the services available to those facing a time of crisis and meet their needs quickly.”

According to the congresswomen, existing supports like hospital emergency departments and the criminal justice system lack adequate resources and health care professionals to address the needs of the growing number of individuals with behavioral health conditions.

But the need is growing. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that 45 percent of adults in the U.S. say their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress caused by the coronavirus. Of those experiencing significant disruption in their lives because of the virus, 28 percent reported major negative mental health impacts.

The new legislation would provide funding for a crisis call center to connect patients and families with behavioral health services; 24/7 mobile crisis services that would travel to a patient in crisis; and crisis stabilization programs that would offer acute or sub-acute care for patients requiring observation or support within a health care facility.

“When a mental health patient is in crisis, they need immediate, evidence-based care from someone who best knows how to help. Too often, people in need of care, are directed to law enforcement or community hospital emergency departments—departments that are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and are not necessarily suited to address their needs,” Wild said.

The legislation is endorsed by a number of national organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the National Council for Behavioral Health; the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD); the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action; and the American Psychological Association.

“We can and must do a better job of supporting people that are experiencing a mental health crisis. We know what effective crisis care looks like, and Rep. Bustos and Rep. Wild’s important legislation will provide an important incentive for states to make comprehensive care available across the country. This move will save money and save lives,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO National Council for Behavioral Health.