Senate HELP Committee Passes the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and passed S. 689, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act. 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. The bill seeks to improve student academic achievement, reduce over-identification of individuals with disabilities, and reduce disciplinary problems in schools by expanding the use of behavioral interventions and supports, as well as early intervention services in schools.

Key provisions in the bill include the promotion of school-based mental health programs, funding for increasing awareness and training of school and emergency services personnel to respond to students with mental health and substance abuse disorders, and a requirement that the Government Accountability Office study and report on the use of mental health services for children, including how children obtain care, the tools and assessments available for children, and the use of psychotropic medications among children.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), easily cleared the committee as expected, but there is no clear indication as to next steps (although there is speculation that the bill could come up for a vote before the full Senate as early as next week). Currently, there is not a companion bill in the House.

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