Lawmakers are attempting to maintain federal funding for mental health

Senator Gordon Smith’s son, Garrett, took his own life in 2003.

“Five years ago on Monday, my wife Sharon and I received the worst news any parent could receive when a police officer showed up at our door to announce that our 21-year-old son, Garrett, had taken his own life,” Sen .Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) during a hearing in 2008. “That day and the days and weeks that followed were the most painful imaginable.”

Following the death of his son, the Oregon Republican put his grief into action and led the creation of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provides funding for community-based suicide prevention among adolescents and young adults.

For the 18 years since the law was first signed into law, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has managed the funds received through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act.

“There are other sources of funding, but in terms of funding specifically for youth suicide prevention, this grant program is the primary vehicle,” said Dr. Richard McKeon, Head of SAMHSA’s Suicide Prevention Unit.

Total funding from the “act” can reach as much as $7 million per year, according to SAMHSA records.

“We’ve made some changes over the years … they went from three years at $400,000 to five years at $700,000,” McKeon said of the length and amount of funding made available to recipients each year.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration also conducts investigations to ensure the funding is making a difference.

“We did ongoing evaluations, we did the first evaluation on this topic about 10 years ago and found it had an impact on saving lives and preventing suicide attempts,” McKeon said.

The research is also used to change the “law” when it comes to regular re-approval. The re-approval process is currently underway, as the funding will expire in the next few months.

“So it’s time to remove the existing awareness and education programs, suicide prevention programs and certainly the stigma from talking about mental health care in our schools and our K through 12 schools in our high schools,” said Rep. Lori Trahan (D Mass.).

The “law” has previously gone through the re-approval process and was passed with bipartisan support. Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D-MA 3rd District), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has met with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash), Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Cindy Axne (D-Iowa ).

“Our country’s deepening mental health crisis is taking a devastating toll on young people, and the need to invest in youth mental health and suicide prevention efforts could not be greater,” said Rep. Axne. “This legislation will continue to support key suicide prevention programs for years to come and ensure young people in Iowa and across the country have access to the help they need. I’m proud to be working with my colleagues on this urgent issue to combat the mental health crisis and save lives.”

“Each day, 125 Americans die from suicide, and mental health issues have become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a mother of four and a new grandmother, I grieve with parents who have lost their children to suicide and want to do whatever I can to support resources that are raising in our communities,” said Rep. Kim. “I’m proud to join Rankings member McMorris Rodgers and Reps Axne and Trahan to ensure Garrett Lee Smith can deliver community-based suicide prevention programs for youth and young adults as we continue our important work of helping young people across the country support. I will do everything in my power to help individuals increase their access to mental health care to meet their health needs.”

Mental health experts and lawmakers also say the funding is needed now more than ever.

“I think there’s also a particular concern now about the impact of the pandemic on adolescent mental health … Children didn’t necessarily have access to the same supports, particularly in terms of in-person support at parts of that time,” McKeon said.

“The youth mental health crisis has only been made worse by the challenges of the pandemic,” Rep. Trahan said. “We have an obligation to meet this moment of urgency with the comprehensive solutions and resources our children need. I am proud to join forces with colleagues to fulfill part of that commitment — the reauthorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and the key programs it supports to provide resources for mental health, strengthen suicide prevention efforts, and to end the stigma associated with getting help.”

“The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial programs save lives and bring hope to young adults who need rescue from despair,” said Rep. Rodgers. “COVID-19 lockdowns have created mental health emergencies and children and young adults of all ages are in crisis. This is an urgent time to ensure these strong nonpartisan programs can continue to support the youth in our communities. I appreciate all my colleagues who are pushing this law with me. Let us continue to build on this work for a safer future for the next generation, especially by offering healing to those struggling with life’s trials.”

Two long-term studies have argued for reauthorization of the program, as both have found a reduction in suicide attempts in communities where programs funded by the law have been made available.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there are places you can go for help. You can call the National Help Line 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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