House passes bill to address mental health care disparities in youth

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Following a nine-month study on black youth suicide and mental health, the House has passed legislation to address mental health care disparities in youth.

Called the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, the bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), authorized $805 million in grants and other funding to support researching in mental health care among young people of color, improving the pipeline of culturally competent providers, reducing the stigma of mental health issues in young people of color and developing a training program for providers to effectively manage disparities.

“This is a huge step and one we’ve been building toward since launching the emergency taskforce in April of 2019. When I began this work, it was out of a desire to bring federal resources to bear in what was clearly becoming a crisis – resources for awareness, for research, for education, and more. That’s what the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act is all about,” Watson Coleman said.

In 2018, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that suicide rates for black children between the ages of five and 12 have exceeded that of white children for the first time in history. More than a third of elementary school-aged suicides are black children, the study found.

A study in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics in 2019 found that self-reported suicide attempts rose 73 percent in black teenagers between 1997 and 2017.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus formed the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, chaired by Watson Coleman, to study suicide in black youth. The taskforce’s goal was to identify causes and solutions and was led by AAP Pediatrics study’s lead author, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, executive director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

“Suicide deaths and behaviors rising in black children and teens in ways that we have not seen before, and youth of color are especially vulnerable to mental health challenges as our nation grapples with the twin pandemics that are hitting our communities especially hard: COVID-19 and racism,” Lindsey said. “The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 is a crucial first step to address these trends, bring much-needed funding and resources for all youth, and direct resources toward more clinical research and interventions. We are grateful to Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, the bill’s co-sponsors and the Congressional Black Caucus, for taking action to save young lives.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV).

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