Student Mental Health Crisis

Two Senators Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Open SAMHSA Mental Health Funds to K–12 School Districts

Two U.S. senators have announced proposed legislation that would allow K–12 school districts to seek direct federal funding for comprehensive student mental health and suicide prevent programs from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Under current law, SAMHSA may only provide direct financial support for mental health services to colleges and universities, but not to K–12 schools.

Late Thursday, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) unveiled their bill, titled Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act. Both are members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The bill had not yet been enrolled as of 8 p.m. EST on Thursday.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened student mental health challenges that existed before the pandemic, leading to higher rates of student depression, anxiety, and suicide. These challenges have now reached a crisis point, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared a ‘national state of emergency in children’s mental health,’” the senators said in a news release.

“As we work together to recover from COVID-19, we must prioritize supporting our students and their mental health needs,” Rosen said. “My bipartisan legislation would allow the federal government to fund comprehensive, equitable, and evidence-based resources and programs in K-12 schools to further promote our students’ mental health, and help prevent student suicides.”

“By allowing funding to go directly to schools to enhance and expand mental and behavioral health services offered to students, those experiencing mental health struggles will have greater access to culturally-relevant services and prevention programs,” Murkowski said. “As we address the current mental health crisis, our children should know their wellbeing and safety is always a priority — and that it’s okay to ask for the help you need.”

SAMHSA grant funding authorized by the Rosen-Murkowski bill would support a wide range of mental health evaluation, planning, programming, and suicide prevention strategies in K-12 schools, including:

  • Conducting training programs for students and school staff to promote effective responses to student mental health issues and suicide attempts
  • Providing mental health services to school-age youth through telehealth or other applications, and to conduct suicide risk and mental health screenings
  • Educational awareness campaign materials for school-age youth, families of school-age youth, and school staff to increase the awareness of potential mental and behavioral health issues of school- age youth
  • Peer-to-peer program support
  • Programs that assist schools in adopting a public health approach to mental health
  • Providing culturally-specific mental health and substance use education and prevention programs for school-age youth

The bill is similar to one introduced last March in the U.S. House of Reprentatives by Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). HR 1803 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Health a day later, and no action has been taken on it since, according to U.S. Congress records. The primary difference between the new proposal from Murkowski and Rosen and HR 1803 is matching funds: HR 1803 requires non-federal matching funds in order for school districts to receive grant assistance, while the new proposal does not.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].