Representative Becca Balint’s (D-Vermont at-large District) very first bill introduced in Washington D.C. addresses mental health support for kids. She said it will not be her last when it comes to this issue.
The Peer Education and Emergency Response for Mental Health Act, or PEER Mental Health Act of 2023, would allocate $24,963,000 in funding for each of fiscal years 2024 through 2028 for school districts to provide mental health first aid support training for students, families, and educators.
Throughout and coming out of the pandemic, the mental health crisis among children of all ages has reached significant and troubling levels. According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is done by the Centers for Disease Control every two years, 42 percent of high school students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and 22 percent said they seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021.
The focus of the bill funding would help train teachers, students, and families to notice signs of students struggling with mental health challenges and provide them with the tools to help refer them to experts.
The bill streamlines the application process so that public schools and state and local education agencies with limited personnel and resources can easily apply.
Balint called this a “critically important time” for children of all ages and said the bill would provide tools to help them navigate mental health challenges.
“American kids and teens are reporting record-high levels of stress, sadness, and depression,” Balint said. “In my conversations with Vermont parents and students, it quickly became clear that we have a responsibility to act. And that young people need and want the tools to be a part of the solution.”
The bill was introduced last month and has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. According to Balint’s spokesperson Sophie Pollock “the future timeline is unclear at this time.”
“Representative Balint is currently working to gather support from her colleagues to move it forward,” Pollock said. “Passage would be an impactful step toward getting American youth the resources they need to face the growing mental health crisis.”
She added that this kind of peer training would not replace the training, recruiting and hiring of more counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
“It is also critical to make investments in resources for professional intervention,” Pollock said.
“Vermonters are struggling and feel ill equipped to support one another through the mental health crisis we are facing as a nation. I’m proud to introduce legislation that alleviates the burden on our youth and gives them the tools they need to support one another,” Balint stated in an earlier press release.
She added that kids need to be equipped with the “knowledge to uplift and support their friends and classmates” in conjunction with professional mental health.
The bill is endorsed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Education Association, and the National Council on Mental Wellbeing.
“With 42 percent of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, it’s time for us to empower, educate, and equip young people with the knowledge to help one another,” Balint noted. “While just a first step, the PEER Mental Health Act would be a powerful resource for supporting youth through this unprecedented time.”