Mental Health Awareness Month: How the Biden administration plans to combat mental health challenges

America's youth are in a worsening mental health crisis, with factors including isolation during pandemic school closures and social media usage leading to soaring numbers experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, research has found. The Biden administration is rolling out plans during Mental Health Awareness Month to address the issue.

The number of teens who experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased in the last decade, with 57% of high school girls experiencing those feelings in 2021 compared to 36% in 2011, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on youth behavioral health found.

On Thursday's National Day of Mental Health Action, the Biden administration highlighted its efforts to combat mental health challenges, especially among children and teens in school settings.

"President Biden knows and believes that mental health is health, period," Ambassador Susan Rice, President Joe Biden's domestic policy adviser, said on a call with reporters.

Here's a look into what the Biden administration is doing to tackle mental health issues in the United States:

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Mental health in youth

Rice said the nation's mental health problems are even more acute in young people. She cited the CDC report that found 13% of high school girls and 7% of high school boys reported attempting suicide in the last year when surveyed in 2021. More than one-fifth of all high school students said they seriously considered it.

"This is simply unacceptable," Rice said.

Schools to receive influx of funding to hire more therapists

The White House highlighted the recent announcement that 35 states would receive more than $95 million in funding from the bipartisan Safer Communities Act to improve school-based mental health services. The funding is estimated to add 14,000 mental health professionals such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers.

The funding will add about 2,631 new mental health professionals to schools in Illinois, 400 in Massachusetts, five in Utah and 36 in Delaware, for example.

The administration said it is also working to make it easier for schools to bill Medicaid for mental health services under new guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Biden's commitment on mental health

During his first State of the Union address, Biden announced mental health was one of the key pillars of his so-called "Unity Agenda," which sought to bring members of both the Republican and Democratic parties together to tackle issues that also included cancer research, caring for veterans and dealing with the opioid epidemic.

The White House said Thursday that Biden's objectives going forward to address mental health for both youth and adults include "strengthening the mental health workforce and system capacity, connecting more Americans to care, and creating a continuum of support."

Rice said the Department of Health and Human Services will be providing $200 million more in funding to scale up operations for 988, the mental health crisis hotline that launched last year.

Mental health spotlighted amid national tragedies

The topic of mental health has been spotlighted amid back-to-back mass shootings that experts say traumatize not only victims but entire communities of witnesses, first responders and families. There have been at least 225 shootings in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The chokehold death of Jordan Neely on a New York City subway at the hands of Daniel Penny also raised questions nationwide about a mental health crisis in the city and across the country.

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