Senator Tina Smith Continues Fight to Improve Mental Health Services for Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. [6.9.23] – Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) continued her fight to improve mental health access for students by reintroducing legislation to strengthen school-based mental health services for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Mental Health Services for Students Act would help schools partner with local mental health providers to establish on-site mental health services for students. It would also provide training for school personnel on how to recognize, assist and refer students who may need mental health support.

The legislation is co-led by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and cosponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).

“Providing mental health services health to students at school—where they spend a significant portion of their time—helps them thrive,” said Senator Smith. “It removes many barriers to access, such as trying to figure out how to leave school in the middle of the day, and promotes behavioral health equity.”

“Kids spend most of their week at school, so it’s not surprising that their teachers are often the first to recognize they might be struggling,” said Senator Murphy. “This legislation would give schools the resources they need to identify students going through a tough time and connect them to the care they need. The alarms about the youth mental health crisis have been sounding for a very long time, and we need to continue investing in the solutions we know work.”

“Nevada students continue to face significant challenges accessing mental health services in every community, and I’m determined to do everything I can to get them the support they need,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Our legislation will help schools provide better services for students and ensure staff can recognize and assist those who need mental health care. I’ll always put Nevada students’ mental health fist.”

“Too many of our youth in Hawaii and across the U.S. experience negative mental health symptoms, in part because they lack access to the necessary resources,” said Senator Hirono. “Providing mental health care in schools is crucial in order to meet students’ emotional health needs. I am glad to join my colleagues in reintroducing this bill to expand access to mental health services, and I will continue working to ensure that all communities have the support they need.”

“As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m proud of the committee’s bipartisan initiative to strengthen access to youth mental health in Oregon and nationwide,” said Senator Wyden. “Youth mental health care can’t wait. And this bill would build on the Finance Committee’s work to help kids get the care they need in schools while also setting students up for a successful mindful future.”

Schools are an ideal setting to identify students who need mental health services and quickly connect them to help. These services are especially important now, as the number of children and adolescents with anxiety and depression has risen nearly 30 percent in recent years. However, many schools—particularly in rural and underserved communities—operate on tight budgets that prevent them from being able to fund the necessary supports to meet their students’ mental health needs.

The Mental Health Services for Students Act would help schools address these challenges by strengthening comprehensive, school-based mental health services.  Specifically, this legislation would help students by providing funding to:

  1. Build partnerships between schools and community-based organizations that can help students get mental health services at school;
  2. Train teachers, families, and community members to recognize when a student is experiencing a mental health crisis, and make sure they get the help they need; and
  3. Recognize best practices for the delivery of mental health care in school-based settings and help formalize relationships between entities that support the mental and emotional health of children and adolescents in school settings.

To achieve these goals, the legislation provides $300 million in funding to local educational agencies, tribal schools and community-based organizations to forge these partnerships and help fund these important activities. 

You can read more about the bill here.