The U.S. has long faced a mental health crisis, a problem that has been exacerbated in recent years, in part because of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions.
Often stigmatized, it can prove difficult for those that struggle with their mental health to find the necessary resources or support. But now, through the latest renewal of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, Congress has taken a significant step toward addressing that crisis and advancing mental healthcare.
Since its inception, the GLSMA — named for the son of former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, Garrett Lee Smith, who died by suicide in 2004 — has provided federal funds to community-based programs that focus on suicide prevention and mental health. Part of the omnibus package signed into law by President Joe Biden last Friday, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Reauthorization Act is set to “renew and strengthen” that commitment amid the ever-growing crisis.
Under the bill, the federal government is able to award up to $71 million annually to help states and nonprofits with youth suicide prevention efforts. As part of that $71 million, $50 million is for state and tribal grants, $12 million is for campus grants and $9 million will go toward the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, (D, MA-03), who helped introduce the legislation, called the GLSMRA a “top priority, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Later, she celebrated its inclusion and passage as part of the omnibus and thanked both the Senate and House of Representatives for the “near-unanimous support” of the measure.
“We were already behind the eight-ball as far as mental healthcare was concerned before COVID — and the pandemic has only made the crisis worse,” Trahan said. “We have an obligation to meet this moment with urgency, with comprehensive solutions and resources that our children need — and (GLSMA) programs have a long track record of success in communities across our country.”
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the near-unanimous support we had every step of the way, culminating in the legislation being included in the omnibus that was signed into law by President Biden,” she said.
With GLSMA funding set to expire on Dec. 31, Trahan said it was “critical” the legislation be extended. The reauthorization push began in March and, spearheaded by Trahan and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, WA-05), Young Kim (R, CA-39) and Cindy Axne (D, IA-03). The legislation passed through the House as part of a larger mental health and addiction package in June.
While it had stalled in the Senate, the GLSMRA would later pass through the chamber as part of the year-end omnibus last week.
Trahan stressed the effectiveness of GLSMA-funded programs and said such “science-backed investments” would be crucial to the future of mental health and mental healthcare across the country.
“When [programs funded by the GLSMA] are implemented on the local level, they save lives,” she said. “These are the kind of science-backed investments that need to be made and that we need to continue to make in the future as the country’s mental health crisis reaches a real tipping point.”
“The pandemic has exacerbated our need to focus on mental health and wellness, mental healthcare, so it was a no-brainer to push for these programs and call to attention how effective they can be. Letting [the GLSMA] expire wasn’t an option,” Trahan said.
In the future, Trahan said she would like to see Congress push for “longer-term strategies” to address mental health and mental healthcare. She reiterated, however, that the passage of the GLSMRA was a win for those that have struggled or continue to struggle with their mental health.
Trahan also declared that, as long as she should serve in Congress, she would continue to fight for positive mental healthcare-related legislation.
“I can sleep easier knowing that [GLSMRA] programs are at work in our communities, that people in need can receive adequate care or be directed to the proper resources,” Trahan said. “But we can’t stop there, we have to make sure we’re not only intervening when issues arise but that we continue to fund prevention programs and get out in front of these issues with longer-term strategies.”
“I’m going to continue to fight [for mental healthcare-related legislation] for as long as I’m in Washington because I don’t see any other issue that rises to a level of more importance than that, especially with our younger kids,” she said.