Today, S. 689, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, a comprehensive bill to improve awareness and prevention of mental illness with special emphasis on services for children and youth passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with broad bipartisan support. The bill is now awaiting Majority Leader Reid's action to bring it to the Senate Floor.
Yesterday evening, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) joined a bipartisan group of Senators on the HELP Committee to introduce the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act.
"To truly address the root cause of the terrible violence and tragic attacks we have seen in recent months, we must look to the structural deficiencies in our mental health system," Senator Roberts said. "Troubled folks, especially our youth, requiring mental health care deserve the highest protections, care and understanding. I am confident that this proposal, which has bipartisan support is a step in the right direction."
The bill reauthorizes and improves programs administered by both the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions, and the promotion of linkages to appropriate services for children and youth.
Senator Roberts went on, highlighting why improving our mental health system is a far better approach to avoid violent tragedies than the gun control proposals currently being negotiated behind closed doors by Majority Leader Reid and fellow Senate Democrats.
"I'm a Dad and a Granddad -- If I thought the gun control proposals making their way to the Senate floor would end violence, I would vote for them. However, I just don't think these proposals are the answer and neither do the thousands of Kansans that have contacted me. This bill seeks to help the troubled individuals in our society that often end up committing violent acts."
Title I of the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act focuses on school settings by promoting school-wide prevention of mental illness through the development of positive behavioral supports and encouraging school-based mental health partnerships.
Title II focuses on health issues like substance abuse, suicide prevention, helping children recover from traumatic events, mental health awareness for teachers and other individuals, and assessing barriers to integrating behavioral health and primary care. This bipartisan legislation makes targeted improvements designed to advance Federal efforts to assist states and local communities in addressing the mental health needs of their citizens.
The bill was introduced by Senators Harkin (D-IA), Alexander (R-TN), Murkowski (R-AK) Franken (D-NV), Enzi (R-WY) , Bennet (D-CO), Baldwin (D-WI), Hagan (D-NC), Isakson (R-GA), Sanders (I-VT) and Roberts (R-KS).
As the Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care, the Co-Chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus and as a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Roberts has fought for improved mental health services and mental health parity. Senator Roberts was a long time original cosponsor of Senators Pete Domenici and Paul Wellstone's landmark legislation on Mental Health Parity which became law in 2008. He was also a supporter of the Garrett Lee Smith Act.