Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), in cooperation with mental health advocates and organizations, held a legislative briefing for Members of Congress and their staff in recognition of National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.
"Thank you all for being here today on behalf of the most precious resource we have, our children," Napolitano said. "We have been trying for years to de-stigmatize the issue of mental illness, and we must continue to let our youngsters know that it is always okay to seek help. I thank my colleagues for joining me in preventive efforts for the future of our children and elevating mental health to achieve parity with physical health."
Panelists at the briefing included Kana Enomoto, Principal Deputy Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Dylan Zimdahl, Youth, Savannah, GA; Anthony Mannarino, Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA; and Dr. JoAnne M. Malloy, Clinical Assistant Professor, Institute of Disability, University of New Hampshire.
Following the briefing, Napolitano was joined by several of her Congressional colleagues and mental health advocates wearing green ribbons to show support for May as National Mental Health Awareness Month (Photos above).
Almost 8.4 million U.S. children ages 9 to 17, or one out of five children and adolescents, suffer from some form of mental, emotional, or behavioral challenges. One-half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, but only 1 in 5 children will have access to treatment or professional help. Studies have shown that children with mental disorders experience problems in schools, with peers, and at home. Providing early mental health treatment is critical to preventing further emotional and behavioral disorders (SAMHSA report).
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for young adults and adolescents. Napolitano has helped establish suicide prevention programs in more than a dozen L.A. County schools over the last ten years (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
H.R. 628, the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013, introduced by Napolitano, would create a competitive grant program which would allow the receiving school districts to hire mental health professionals for their district. By having qualified professionals working on-site in schools, they will be better able to provide prevention and early intervention services for students. It currently has 67 cosponsors in the House and the support of mental health organizations from across the country. Senator Al Franken (D-MN.) has introduced the Senate version of the bill (S.195), which currently has 18 cosponsors.