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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. REED. Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined by Senators Murkowski, Durbin, Collins, Tom Udall, Murray, Lautenberg, Blumenthal, Coons, Klobuchar, and Stabenow in the introduction of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization.

This legislation is named for the son of Senator Gordon Smith, our former colleague, who took his own life at the young age of 22. After this tragedy, Senator Smith rallied support from members across the aisle and in both chambers to prevent other children from doing the same with passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act in 2004. Since then, it has retained its bipartisan support among Members of Congress and over 40 member organizations of the Mental Health Liaison Group.

However, the recent horrific mass shooting in Newtown, CT shows that more work must be done to address the mental and behavioral health of children and young adults before they hurt themselves and others. Indeed, what is so clear now from this terrible tragedy is that we have young people who desperately need help. Parents also need help in identifying early warning signs of mental illness and accessing the appropriate treatment before it is too late.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act authorizes critical resources for schools, elementary schools through college where children and young adults spend most of their time, to be able to reach at risk youth. Currently, this law supports 40 States, 38 tribes and tribal organizations, and 85 colleges and universities in their efforts to address mental health and prevent suicides among their youth.

The bill my colleagues and I are introducing today would increase the authorized grant level to States, tribes, and college campuses for the implementation of proven programs and initiatives designed to address mental illness and reduce youth suicide. It will enable more schools to offer critical services to students and provide greater flexibility in the use of funds, particularly on college campuses.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults age 10 to 24, up from the third leading cause of death in this population just a few years ago, and results in 4,800 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the CDC reports that 157,000 young adults in this age group are treated for self-inflicted injuries annually, often as the result of a failed suicide attempt.

We can play a role in helping these children and their families. I am pleased that President Obama and Vice President Biden recognized this and included in their Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence a recommendation to increase support for young adults ages 16 to 25, a population with high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide that is unlikely to seek help. Indeed, passing the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization is one way we can better address the mental health needs of this population.

My colleague, Chairman Harkin, will be holding a hearing on the status of the mental health system in our country tomorrow. I look forward to continuing to work with him and others to act on the President's recommendations to improve mental and behavioral health care services, particularly for children and young people. This should be something that we do automatically when it comes to the welfare of our children but is even more urgently required in the wake of the terrible recent tragedies in Connecticut and elsewhere.

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