Urge your member of Congress to support mental health services in public schools

Mental illness affects millions of people, including millions of young people, in the United States each year. Despite this widespread prevalence, mental health is often stigmatized and viewed as less important than physical health. Our government must work to ensure that all people can access mental health care. The public school system is uniquely positioned to help provide mental health services for young people.

The Mental Health Services for Students Act passed the House of Representatives in May 2021 but has not received a vote in the Senate. Now, the Senate must act. Urge your Senators to support the bill to expand mental health services in public schools.

Background 

1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a serious mental health disorder each year. Unfortunately, many young people are unable to access treatment; approximately 80 percent of children and adolescents with any type of mental health diagnosis still have unmet mental health needs.

Schools are in a unique position to help close this gap. Although many young people still struggle to access care, 70 to 80 percent of students who do receive mental health services access those services at school. Still, many schools still lack the proper resources or training to identify and treat mental health problems among their students. For example, 90 percent of public school students attend schools that fail to meet professional staffing requirements for counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

The Mental Health Services for Students Act (H.R.721/S.1841) would help improve mental health care services in public schools. Led by Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA-32) and John Katko (R-NY-24) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), this bipartisan bill would provide $200 million in grant funding per year for five years to expand the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education (Project AWARE) program, which supports school-based mental health services, including screening, treatment, and outreach programs. Under this legislation, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will award individual grants of up to $2 million to help schools expand Project AWARE services by partnering with community mental health professionals to provide on-site care, train school personnel to recognize mental and behavioral health issues, facilitate community partnerships to improve mental health education, and establish mechanisms for students to report incidents or plans of violence by other students, adolescents, or adults.

Jewish Values

Judaism teaches that mental health is equally as important as physical health. In the traditional Mi Shebeirach (prayer for healing), we pray for a r’fuah shleima (a complete recovery), which includes r’fuat hanefesh ur’fuat haguf (a healing of the body and spirit). Although Judaism acknowledges a distinction between mental and physical health, our tradition generally situates both on an equal level, recognizing that both are integral components of overall well-being.

Furthermore, Judaism is clear about our responsibility to ensure health care for all people. Jewish tradition teaches that human life has infinite value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations. Providing health care is not just an obligation of the doctor, but for society as well. It is for this reason that Maimonides listed health care first on his list of the ten most important communal services a city must offer its residents if the city is to be found worthy for a great scholar to live there (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot IV:23). As Jews, we believe that the government has an obligation to ensure that all people can access health care, including mental health care. 

For More Information

You can email your elected officials through our form or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak directly with their offices. For more information on this issue, contact Senior Legislative Assistant Jacob Greenblatt at jgreenblatt@rac.org or 202-387-2800 or visit the RAC’s mental health issue page.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness, please know that you are not alone. Here is a list of hotlines, crisis resources, and Jewish community programs.

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