Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Mental Health Services

Bill Includes Bennet Provisions to Identify and Help At-Risk Students, Improve Mental Health Care and Awareness, and Reduce Red Tape that Prevents Treatment

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined several colleagues to introduce a bill to improve mental health services through better awareness, prevention, and identification of mental health conditions and to connect children with services to help them get appropriate treatment. The comprehensive bill reauthorizes and improves programs administered by both the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Bennet was joined by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Al Franken (D-MN), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) as original cosponsors.

“As a country, we have experienced far too many tragedies that could have been prevented if there was better access to mental health services – especially among our kids,” Bennet said. “This bill will help us better understand the signals that someone may need help, and it will help connect those people with the services and treatments they need. We must work together to eliminate the stigma that taking care of our mental health is any less important than going to the doctor to prevent any other type of ailment.”

The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act is designed to assist states and local officials in addressing the mental health needs of their communities. It incorporates the Achievement Through Prevention Act, a bill Bennet introduced last Congress that would allow schools to implement “Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS)” using Title I funds. PBIS has proven to enhance academic and behavioral outcomes for all students by identifying and helping children who need targeted intervention.

PBIS helps schools establish a system, based on proven, effective methods, that provides individualized intervention tailored to the needs of at-risk kids. The data-driven program has reduced suspensions and expulsions and increased student achievement through the interventions of students with the most serious needs and by creating a safe and positive learning environment for all students.  Suspensions have been reduced in schools implementing PBIS, which currently serves more than 300,000 students in Colorado.

The bill also includes language to expand mental health first aid training and increase the effectiveness of mental health care across America. This provision is based on a bill Bennet cosponsored that provides funding for training programs to help the public identify, understand, and address crisis situations safely. It also calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to mental health services available in communities. The Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council has already implemented several of these programs and has received the 2012 National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care (NCCBH) award for its mental health first aid instruction. Colorado currently has 163 mental health first aid training instructors in addition to 5,000 people around the state who are certified, including law enforcement, school officials, faith-based communities, primary care providers, nursing home professionals, among others.

Finally, it includes a study Bennet and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) requested to examine the redundant federal requirements that providers must meet before they can treat patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Behavioral health officials in Colorado have told Bennet that the duplicative requirements by several different agencies add burdensome requirements and impede efficient mental health care delivery. The report will also look at how health IT can improve mental health care.

The bill is supported by the Mental Health Liaison Group, which includes 36 national organizations representing consumer, family members, advocates, professionals, and providers of mental health services.