NEW JERSEY – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12), Congressman Andy Kim (D-N.J.-03), mental health practitioners and advocates for a roundtable discussion and listening session at Rider University.
A recent study by the CDC reported that more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with mental illness and over 1 in 5 youth between the ages of 13 and 18 have or have had a seriously debilitating mental illness. Suicide rates increased 37% between 2000 and 2018. In 2021, over 48,000 Americans committed suicide.
“The mental health crisis facing our country is one of the biggest challenges we must confront. Unmet mental health needs jeopardize the future of our young people, particularly in minority communities. Providing equity in mental health care access and reducing disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups is critical to how we confront this issue and build stronger, healthier individuals and communities,” Menendez said. “It is fitting that we are coming together for this listening session in May, which is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, and that we’re doing this after introducing our landmark bill, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, just last week. This legislation is a positive step to ensure that public health agencies prioritize issues of mental health and suicide, especially in communities with high populations of people of color who continue to bear the disproportionate brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is my sincere hope that together, with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we can finally address this racial inequity in our mental health care system.”
In a discussion moderated by Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, Dean of the NYU Silver School of Social Work and Paulette Goddard Professor of Social Work, the three lawmakers discussed the ongoing mental health crisis, specifically its impact on children, veterans, and seniors. They also spoke about the cost of mental health inequities, alleviating the health and economic burdens of unmet mental health needs, and charting the path towards a more inclusive and comprehensive mental healthcare system.
The listening session follows last week’s reintroduction of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act by Sen. Menendez and Rep. Watson Coleman. Originally introduced in 2020, the legislation would authorize $995 million in grants and other funding to support research, improve the pipeline of culturally competent providers, build outreach programs that reduce stigma, and develop a training program for providers to effectively manage disparities.
“The Crisis we were facing had been festering for years before COVID hit and since then it has only grown worse,” Coleman said. “The isolation caused by being forced indoors for months; witnessing parents, grandparents, and loved ones die; the general stress that comes with the loss of jobs and the increase in diseases of despair all impacted our young people. Many of those young people did not have access to the resources they needed to cope. We have an opportunity, right now, to address this crisis and get a generation of young people the help they so desperately need.”
“Every American should have access to mental health support when they need it,” Kim said. “Right now we need to focus on breaking down inequities in care and increase access, affordability, and overall quality in American mental healthcare. There’s no doubt we’re in crisis. Congress has an opportunity to meet the moment, help break the stigma, surge resources, and help lower the cost of care. We must urgently step up to do so.”
Attendees included Rider Provost Donna Jean Fredeen and Micah Rasmussen, Director of the Rebovich Institute, as well as representatives from the Office of First Lady Tammy Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Human Services. Also in attendance were members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Moms Demand Action, Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, and the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium.