On March 10th, 2021, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reintroduced the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act alongside U.S. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12) and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.-31). The legislation was originally presented in 2020 after a report from the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, which was led by Rep. Watson Coleman. The report delved into the state of Black youth mental health and also gave policy recommendations for Congress to consider.
The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act aims to address the mental health crisis that the country is facing, which is one of the biggest challenges that needs to be confronted. The bill seeks to reduce disparities in mental health care access among racial and ethnic minority groups. This is crucial to tackle the issue and create stronger, healthier individuals and communities, especially in minority neighborhoods that have borne the disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Journal Pediatrics in 2019, self-reported suicide attempts rose in Black teenagers while they fell in other groups. Another report by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics published in the same year found that the rate of suicides for Black children between the ages of five and 12 had exceeded that of White children for the first time in the history of such research. More than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved Black children.
The legislation authorizes $995 million in grants and other funding to support research to improve the pipeline of culturally competent providers. The bill also builds outreach programs that reduce stigma and develop a training program to help providers manage disparities more effectively.
The legislation has been heavily supported by mental health organizations such as the Mental Health Liaison Group and the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The bill has also received support from major health care organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, Dean of the NYU Silver School of Social Work and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health’s working group, has stated that the provisions of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act are more critical now than ever before, following the devastating impact of COVID-19.
The main elements of the bill include authorizing $750 million annually for five years for the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; authorizing $150 million annually over five years for the National Institute of Health to support clinical research, including on racial or ethnic disparities in physical and mental health; and directing the National Institutes of Health to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to study mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups.