Senator Warnock pushes for more mental health help in schools

Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 4:50 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to provide more access to mental health professionals to help deal with everyday stress students experience in school. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) reintroduced legislation called the ASSIST Act that seeks to help schools increase the number of mental health and substance use disorder professionals on campus, paid for under Medicaid.

“You’re trying to understand and process so much about yourself and about where you come from,” said Jalen Smith, a student at Valdosta State University.

Smith calls it a mental health journey, and for him it began a year ago when he became aware of his struggles. He says growing up in a community where prayer and family were meant to fix all, a stigma came with seeking professional help.

“I didn’t have that help or that understanding and I didn’t find true mental health support until I came to college,” said Smith.

Shakedra Harris, a mental health counselor says between the pandemic, internet exposure, and gun violence, mental health problems are beginning earlier for kids.

“Our children need access to trained mental health professionals, because like our emotions are real, theirs are too,” said Harris.

Warnock introduced his legislation in 2022 but it stalled on Capitol Hill. With no Republican cosponsors as of now, it is unclear whether this renewed effort will end any differently.

“Children are dealing with a whole range of pressures that my generation didn’t know quite frankly and we got to provide the resources to meet this moment,’ said Warnock.

The legislation is sitting in the Senate Finance Committee awaiting approval before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote. There is companion legislation in the House.