Sen. Franken’s bill expands access to mental health care for students

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Washington, D.C. — One of the nation’s leading mental health experts confirmed the need for U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) bill that expands access to mental health services in schools for kids who require help. Currently, only one in five children who have mental health issues get seen or treated.

During a hearing in the Senate health committee, Dr. Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told Sen. Franken that the earlier we detect mental health problems and provide treatment, the better.

In the hearing, Sen. Franken asked, “So since, in a sense, Newtown did prompt this [hearing]…that was one of a number of horrific occurrences where I think no one would question – in Tucson, in Newtown – we’re talking about someone that was deranged. Had that person been diagnosed say, in school, and had been able to get some kind of treatment, that there is some kind of connection between making sure that we’re identifying and treating children early on with the tragedy that brought us here?”

Dr. Insel responded, “The published data are quite clear that the difference between severely violent acts, like homicide, between those who are treated versus untreated is 15-fold. So you drop the risk 15-fold with treatment, so it’s vital – it’s absolutely vital – that we detect earlier and intervene earlier with something that’s effective.”

Part of Sen. Franken’s inspiration for the Mental Health in Schools Act stems from the poor ratio of school counselors to students in Minnesota. Currently Minnesota ranks 48th in the nation with 1 counselor for every 780 students.  Sen. Franken was recently awarded Legislator of the Year by the Minnesota School Psychologists Association.

The Mental Health in Schools Act would authorize funding for grants to schools and community mental health centers to work with community-based organizations to expand access to mental health services for students.

The grants will also be used to provide training for families, school staff, and other members of the community to look out for warning signs in children and to refer them to the appropriate services when necessary. Sen. Franken plans to introduce his Mental Health in Schools Act in the coming days.


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