PROVIDENCE, RI – Alarming new data from the latest CDC Youth Risk Behavior report shows teens -- especially girls -- are experiencing shockingly high levels of depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts, and mental health challenges.  Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls reported in 2021 that they seriously considered suicide and nearly 60 percent of teenage girls reported feeling so persistently sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row during the previous year that they stopped regular activities.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed says these numbers should serve as a national wakeup call and spur Congress to take further action to address the mental health crisis impacting today’s youth.

“This is an emergency and we’re seeing more kids end up in emergency rooms experiencing mental health issues because we’re not being proactive enough and providing integrated care and sustained support.  When it comes to mental and behavioral health services, it’s important to meet children where they are and connect them to the help they need.   Early intervention and timely services are essential and schools can play a key role,” said Senator Reed.  “We must ensure an integrated system and appropriate, professional staffing is in place to support student well-being and assist schools with their mental health resources to better serve at-risk students.”

In 2022, Reed helped include $3 billion for school and community-based mental health and trauma-informed care in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (P.L. 117-159), which President Biden signed into law.

Last December, the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was awarded $2 million of this federal funding to increase access to school-based mental health services and strengthen the local pipeline of mental health professionals.  The award was part of a five year-$10 million grant to the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education through the School-Based Mental Health Services Grants (SBMHSG). 

Rhode Island allocated its SBHHG funding to a pilot program serving four school districts: Coventry Public Schools; Johnston Public Schools; Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District; and the Segue Institute for Learning.  Under the state’s plan, the federal funds will be used to employ two dozen school counselors, approximately 23 school social workers, and six school psychologists.

Research shows that children and young people learn more, report feeling safer, and develop more trusting relationships with their peers and teachers when their social and emotional needs are met with certified and accessible mental health professionals.

In addition to SBMHSG funding, Reed also helped make nearly $18 million in federal mental health funding for students available to Rhode Island schools under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education).  Project AWARE is a competitive grant program supporting activities that identify children and youth in need of mental health services, increase access to mental health treatment, and promote mental health literacy among teachers and school personnel.  Rhode Island has won multiple Project AWARE grants and is targeting funds to expand mental health services in the Chariho; East Providence; Newport; Pawtucket; Providence; Warwick; Woonsocket and other school districts.

Additionally, Reed -- who co-authored the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (P.L. 116-172) to designate 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, and the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization to help prevent youth suicide -- worked to prioritize suicide prevention initiatives in the FY 2023 Consolidated Appropriations law, including:

  • $1 billion for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant
  • $501.6 million for 988 and Behavioral Health Crisis Services
  • $385 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics
  • $52.3 million for the Garrett Lee Smith-Youth Suicide Prevention State and Campus grants and $11 million for the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Resource Center
  • $30 million for the CDC’s Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Program (CSP)

“The youth suicide crisis is a waking nightmare.  Congress should treat this as a national emergency and help save lives by ensuring young people have immediate and comprehensive access to mental health care.  We want everyone to know that help is available and we need to do appropriate outreach so people can access the support they need,” said Senator Reed.

President Biden’s Mental Health Strategy seeks to double the number of school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals nationwide. These funds have the potential to meaningfully change lives by building a mental health infrastructure in schools and communities across the country.