Watson Coleman, Katko Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Racial Disparities in Mental Health Coverage

Watson Coleman, Katko Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Racial Disparities in Mental Health Coverage

Cosponsored by 48 members, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act would combat growing disparities in mental health access and increasing suicide rate among minorities youth


Washington, D.C. (March 3, 2021) – Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Congressman John Katko (NY-24) announced the reintroduction of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act (H.R. 1475). The Act was originally introduced in 2019 following a report from the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health chaired by Congresswoman Watson Coleman. The report – “Ring the Alarm: the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America.” – outlined the state of Black youth mental health and detailed policy recommendations for consideration by Congress. In 2020, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act passed the House by voice vote but did not get a vote in the Senate.

In 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics published a report that found that for the first time in the history of such research, the rate of suicides for Black children between the ages of five and 12 has exceeded that of White children, and more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved Black children. A 2019 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics found that self-reported suicide attempts rose in Black teenagers, even as they fell in other groups; and further analysis of the data found these attempts rose 73 percent between 1997 and 2017. The Emergency Taskforce sought to identify causes and solutions, and empowered a working group of academic and practicing experts led by the AAP Pediatrics study’s lead author, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, Executive Director of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

The bill would authorize $805 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 of climbing youth suicide rates existed before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis but has no doubt intensified as so many minority youth have lost friends and family members as the coronavirus has decimated their communities,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “I’m grateful to Congressman Katko for joining me in the effort to combat this crisis and see to it that all of our youth, no matter their background, have access to the mental health care they need.”

“I’m proud to join this bipartisan, bicameral effort to promote access to mental healthcare services for minority communities in Central New York and across the country,” said Rep. Katko. “Studies show that minority communities suffer disproportionally from the lack of access to quality mental healthcare. Our bill takes aim at these inequities by providing funding to expand the pipeline of providers in underserved areas. The bill also provides vital support to improve outreach and training programs designed to combat disparities and reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health disorders.”

The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act is endorsed by The American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association, The Trevor Project, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, Sandy Hook Promise, The American Association of Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, The Jed Foundation, and the Mental Wealth Alliance.

“The American Psychological Association commends Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman for her commitment to disrupting longstanding mental health inequities affecting communities of color,” said American Psychological Association President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD. “The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated, more than ever, the breadth of these disparities and the toll on the mental health of Americans. APA calls on Congress to swiftly enact the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act to help provide equitable access to needed care to stem the growing mental health crisis.”

“Ingrained structural racism in our country has led to health care disparities that are disastrous to the mental health of young Black people and other BIPOC. It will take tangible action to chip away at these longstanding issues,” said American Psychiatric Association President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. “The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act presents several of those types of actions, such as substantial funding for the Minority Fellowship Program, which will mean a physician workforce that is better prepared to serve our diverse population.”

“AFSP thanks Congresswoman Watson Coleman and Congressman Katko for their leadership in reintroducing the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act,” said Robert Gebbia, Chief Executive Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “We support this legislation because it includes vital investments in education, training, and research, and the expansion of programs that will help address the increase in youth suicide in Black and other marginalized populations. Mental health issues and risk for suicide do not discriminate, and so it is imperative that Congress take action and swiftly pass this important piece of legislation.”

“The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating already-rising rates of depression and suicide among young people — particularly among Black youth, who are now twice as likely to die by suicide than their white peers,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act will provide necessary funding to address the disparities in access to mental health care and support research into effective interventions that equitably address youth mental health issues.”

“When it comes to mental health and suicide, any barriers to care can have enormous consequences. This bill would help break down those barriers and save lives,” said Sam Brinton (they/them pronouns), VP of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. “According to our research, 54% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it — and more than half cited affordability as a key barrier. We also know these rates are higher among LGBTQ youth of color, who continue to face unique stressors and challenges. Thank you to Rep. Watson Coleman for leading the charge to confront these disparities head-on.”

“Racism is a mental health issue that undergirds trauma so many young people have experienced,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America. “Trauma paints a direct line to mental health conditions. Mental Health America supports the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act because it directs necessary resources for researching and addressing trauma, emotional disturbances, and mental health conditions in Black and brown children early on, before stage four (crisis).”

The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act is cosponsored by Jahana Hayes (CT-5), Nanette Barragan (CA-44), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5), Madeleine Dean (PA-4), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Alan Lowenthal, (CA-47), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Bennie Thompson (MS-2), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Robin Kelly (IL-2), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DA-At Large), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Yvette Clark (NY-9), Adam Smith (WA-9), Juan Vargas (CA-51), David Trone (MD-6), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Karen Bass (CA-37), Nydia Velazquez (NY-7), G.K. Butterfield (NC-1), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (GU-At Large), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5), Ilhan Omar (MN-5), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Hank Johnson (GA-4), Diana DeGette (CO-1), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Andre Carson (IN-7), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Tom Malinowski (NJ-7), Danny Davis (IL-7), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Albio Sires (NJ-8), Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), Cynthia Axne (IA-3), Dwight Evans (PA-3), Betty McCollum (MN-4), and Al Lawson (FL-5).

A companion bill is being introduced in the Senate by Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Click here to read the bill text.

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