A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers has launched the Senate Mental Health Caucus to continue work on regulatory reform and help diminish the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.
On Tuesday, Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) announced the caucus’ early strategic efforts to ensure appropriate implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the behavioral health workforce shortage.
“We have a chance to capitalize on this moment and find and advance bipartisan solutions,” Padilla said at a news conference.
Padilla is co-chair of the caucus along with Tillis.
Padilla announced his intent to form the Senate Mental Health Caucus in June. At that time, he revealed that the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) would be part of the effort. Representatives of each organization spoke at the conference.
The initial members of the caucus also include:
— Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.)
— Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.)
— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.Y.)
— Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
— Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
“This caucus will not only work to advance policy solutions, but it will also send a loud, clear message — mental health is the bipartisan issue of our time [and] that when we all work together — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — we go so much further than we could go alone,” Daniel Gillison Jr., CEO of NAMI, said at the news conference.
The Senate Mental Health Caucus will be a forum for the Senate to collaborate and promote behavioral health legislation and issues. It will also act as an educational force within the Senate. Its other policy objectives include increasing the potency of the collective behavioral health crisis system and access to care.
Last year, the Senate featured several major discussions on behavioral health issues. It also passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a mental health funding and gun control bill passed in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and designated hundreds of millions in additional funding for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Most of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act funding was appropriated for school-based mental health and social services. The Senate Mental Health Caucus will enable implementation work to ensure those funds and other reforms occur.
“I’m going to beat this drum, probably for as long as the job is not complete,” Tillis said. “We really have to get everyone to understand what a foundation the Safer Communities Act is for behavioral health and mental health access.”
He pointed to the law’s provisions that enable the development of additional mental health clinicians and other behavioral health resources. Data show that 49% of Americans live in areas deemed to have a mental health clinician shortage.
“For all that we’ve done in recent years to elevate awareness, overcome stigma, and encourage people to seek help — it’d be cruel to suggest that people seek help and that help not be available to them on a timely basis,” Padilla said.
The U.S. House of Representatives has a similar caucus: Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano of California has led the Congressional Mental Health Caucus since 2003.