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Smith, Murkowski introduce bipartisan bill to expand mental health services in schools

Tina Smith.

U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a bipartisan bill Monday to expand mental health services in the school system.

The Improving Access to Mental Health Services Act would bring mental health professionals who work in the National Health Service Corps into schools, community-based organizations, and into the homes of families who need the services. Currently, NHSC professionals can only provide care at certain approved clinics and are limited in the care they can provide off site.

The bipartisan legislative effort would allow communities in Minnesota, Alaska, and across the country to bolster their mental health treatment options for children—and it would particularly help young people living in rural areas who often lack adequate access to these services.

"Lawmakers often talk about the urgent need to expand mental health services," Smith said in a news release. "But we need to do more than just talk. I was very glad to work in a bipartisan way with Senator Murkowski to offer this new measure, which is sorely needed—particularly in rural areas.

"Expanding access to these important services in our schools would help meet the mental health needs of our children at a younger age, and it would go a long way towards reducing the stigma of receiving mental health treatment. This is a common sense, bipartisan effort that needs to be passed into law."

According to the National Institutes of Health, mental health conditions occur in young people about as often as they do in adults—about 1 in 5 have a mental health condition—but young people frequently have a hard time accessing mental health care.

The Improving Access to Mental Health Services Act would give existing NHSC providers further flexibility in where they are able to practice and deliver care, and those living in rural areas would have better access to mental health services.

"Our goal needs to be universal access to preventive behavioral health providers. We need to ensure that those who might benefit from behavioral health services can obtain it when and where they need it," Murkowski said in a news release.

"I'm proud to cosponsor this bill to expand access in underserved areas for children who need mental and behavioral health services. Mobilizing our NHSC members and partnering them with schools and community-based organizations is a practical, common-sense approach that will streamline the caregiving process, making it less burdensome on parents and easier for children to get the treatment they need."

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