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

Clark County School District Has Reported An Increase In Student Suicides While Schools Were Closed For In-Person Learning, Rosen Bill Provides Resources To Address That

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, 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.” 

In 2020, schools in Clark County, Nevada reported an increase in student suicides while schools were closed for in-person learning – more than double the rate in 2019. Last week during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Rosen asked mental health experts about actions the federal government could take to provide direct, timely assistance to schools to help prevent student mental health challenges and address suicide attempts, and previewed her bipartisan work to address the growing student mental health crisis.

“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.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges for everyone, but especially our young people, resulting in an unprecedented youth mental health crisis. Our students deserve the best education we can deliver, including focusing on and addressing their social-emotional and mental health needs,” said Jesus F. Jara, Superintendent of the Clark County School District. “With all of the resources CCSD currently provides to support the mental health needs of our children, we know our students respond in their individual ways and want to meet them where they are to support them in every way possible. The ‘Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act’ will enable us to seek additional funding to further meet the needs of our children, and the Clark County School District fully supports the intent of the bill and applauds its sponsors for introducing it.”

“As a career educator of 24 years and nearly 7 of those as a superintendent, I have never experienced such a heartbreaking mental health crisis as we have now among students, staff, and families,” said Wayne L. Workman, Superintendent of the Lyon County School District. “Although we can see the serious negative effects of the COVID virus on our youth, it pales in comparison to the devastating mental health crisis the pandemic has created. The Lyon County School District is in full support of any measures that will help our children, especially initiatives such as the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act. Our children must be socially and emotionally healthy if they are to learn and achieve their dreams. This bill will help make these dreams a reality.”

“As COVID-19 continues to impact the mental health of our nation’s young people, schools will play a vital role in both early detection and intervention. Schools must be given the tools to do so effectively,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “APA applauds Senators Rosen and Murkowski for introducing this critical bipartisan legislation, which recognizes that local school districts understand their students best and should be provided the resources to address both their education and psychological well-being.”

“AFSP applauds Senator Rosen and Senator Murkowski on their bipartisan efforts to safeguard the mental health of our children, and reduce their rates of suicide,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Senior Vice President for Public Policy, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “As we know, the country is currently in the midst of a youth mental health crisis, and the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act will equip schools and communities with the tools necessary to provide equitable mental health care through evidence-based services. AFSP is proud to endorse this legislation, and urges Congress to take swift action to support and protect our children.”

“Young people today are facing unprecedented challenges that can have a devastating effect on their mental health,” said John MacPhee, CEO of The Jed Foundation. “That is why The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults, applauds Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for introducing the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act. This bill, if signed into law, would support schools in equipping students to navigate mental health challenges, and to recognize and connect students in need with mental health care.”

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).