NEWPORT, RI – May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and emotional well-being, while reducing the stigma around mental health disorders.

Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined officials at the Newport Mental Health Center (NMH) to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month and deliver $201,000 in federal funding to assist both youth and older adult residents with mental health needs and improve health outcomes.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in six American youth experience a mental health condition annually; with only half of them receiving treatment.  And, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates are highest among men 65 and older, a clear indication of unmet mental health needs in the older adult community.

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health challenges across age groups.

To help NMH address these challenges, Reed and Whitehouse secured a pair of federal earmarks to expand access to mental health services for younger and older residents:

  • Senator Reed secured a $100,000 earmark for the expansion of free mental health services delivered to youth and young adults in Newport County.  Under the project, NMH will expand its services to at-risk youth by enhancing its school and office-based treatment services and behavioral health interventions.  NMH is adding specialized comprehensive mobile crisis services for 150 high-need students per year in four local school districts.  The project will also expand emergency crisis services to children at risk of serious emotional disturbance.
  • Senator Whitehouse secured a $101,000 earmark for a project called Mental Health Care for Older Adults to Meet Growing Demand.  NMH will use the federal funds to increase outreach activities to better identify and engage older adults with substance use and mental health issues, and to provide evidence-based, age-appropriate treatment to at-risk seniors at their home or in their community.

Senator Reed noted that the most recent data from the 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.

In 2022, Reed and Whitehouse 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.  They also provided $280 million in FY23 to help meet students’ mental health needs, including federal grants allowing school districts across the country to hire approximately 5,400 mental health professionals and train approximately 5,500 more to build a diverse force of mental health care providers in schools.

“I will continue to invest in Rhode Island’s mental health infrastructure, including research, providers, and school-based and community-based resources.  This is an investment in our children’s well-being.  Too many kids and adolescents go untreated and wind up in crisis at the emergency room.  We need to do a better job connecting youth to mental health support and this federal funding is part of that effort,” said Senator Reed.  “Accessing needed mental health services can change the trajectory of children's lives and lead to positive outcomes.  We need to be proactive.  We need to ensure people feel connected and can get the help they need and that means prioritizing mental health care and letting folks know that mental health check ins are a positive, healthy thing to do.  Whether someone is diagnosed with cancer or a mental illness, they need access to health providers who can effectively treat them and people who will support their path to recovery.”

Senator Whitehouse also highlighted the need for innovative outreach and strategies to reduce depression, anxiety, and suicide in elderly Americans by supporting evidence-based approaches to improving senior mental health and well-being.  Older people face unique mental health challenges and can become more susceptible to conditions such as depression and anxiety that is exacerbated by declining physical health, loneliness, grief, or loss of independence.

“The pandemic took a heavy toll on Rhode Islanders dealing with mental health and substance use issues, especially those on the long, noble road of recovery,” said Senator Whitehouse, who authored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the law guiding the federal response to the opioid epidemic.  “I am pleased to secure funding to support the important work of the Newport County Community Mental Health Center in expanding outreach to older adults at risk of substance use and mental health challenges.”

“I want to thank Senators Reed and Whitehouse for championing the needs of people with mental health and substance use disorders.  These funds provided to Newport Mental Health address two of the largest unmet needs for mental health services in Newport County, those of children and our older adults.  These age groups are experiencing the fastest growing demand for our services,” said NMH President & CEO Jamie Lehane.

In addition to the federal funding announced today, Rhode Island is one of fifteen states that was recently awarded a $1 million, one-year planning grant to be considered among the final ten states that will be chosen in 2024 to participate in the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Medicaid demonstration program.

The senators also say it is important to remind people experiencing mental health challenges that help is available, no one should have to battle mental illness alone, and it is healthy and a sign of strength to seek assistance.

Founded in 1964, Newport Mental Health provides trauma informed evidence-based services to children, adolescents, families, and adults who are experiencing problems with mental illness, substance abuse, or stress in their lives that would benefit from counseling and other behavioral health services and supports.