Access to Youth and School Mental Health Programs in the U.S.

On 2 April 2020, Yolanda, 9, participates in one of her first virtual classes while studying from home in New York City. It is the first time Yolanda has been able to see her teachers and classmates since in-person classes were stopped.
United States
© UNICEF/UNI320494/Elias

On June 25, 2022, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, greenlighting investments in school and youth mental health programs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019 suicide was the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 13 to 19 — and the leading cause of death among 13-year-olds in the U.S. Escalating mental health concerns led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.

Now more than ever, we need to ensure every child has access to mental health services, particularly the most vulnerable including LGBTQ, Black and indigenous children, children of color and children with disabilities.

As part of the Hopeful Futures Campaign, UNICEF USA and its supporters have advocated for increased investments in school and youth mental health services. We’ve also advocated for changes in Medicaid guidance to improve access to these services. We are happy to see that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes significant investments in school and youth mental health programs. Specifically, the act includes:

• $500 million to help schools hire and retain mental health professionals through the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant program and to build a much-needed pipeline of school mental health professionals through the School-Based Mental Health Services Professional Demonstration Grant program

• $80 million over four years to support the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access telehealth consultation program

• $240 million over four years for Project AWARE grants for school-based mental health programs

• One-time funding of $150 million to help implement the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

• Requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to issue guidance on improving access to telehealth under Medicaid and CHIP and to issue updated guidance on billing services in school-based settings 

We commend the U.S. Congress on the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This is a major victory and a testament to what can be accomplished when elected officials work together and prioritize children when making decisions. Every child has a right to live without violence in a safe and secure environment. Though there is plenty of work to be done, passing this bill is one step closer to achieving that right.

We thank our supporters who played a role in securing these investments during Advocacy Day 2022. We hope this victory encourages you to continue to advocate for children globally and in the U.S.

Be sure to follow UNICEF USA on social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter) for updates on how you can participate in future advocacy opportunities focused on mental health in the U.S. In the meantime, you can support children globally by advocating to include mental health services in foreign assistance through the MINDS Act. Learn more here.

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