Spectrum News: Senators form bipartisan Mental Health Caucus

By Cassie Semyon and Reuben Jones

As the United States faces a mental health crisis, a bipartisan group of senators is looking to tackle the issue by creating the Senate Mental Health Caucus.

Outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Tina Smith, D-Minn. announced the creation of the caucus. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is also a member and co-founder of the group.

The caucus will focus on destigmatizing mental health, pushing for bipartisan legislation and holding events to raise awareness of critical mental health issues.

On Tuesday, senators emphasized how the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – the first significant gun safety legislation signed into law in decades – will help tackle mental health issues.

“That is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in terms of funding, for access to behavioral health in the history of this country,” Tillis said. “And it’s going to be a game changer if we work with state and local governments to make sure it’s implemented right, and implemented with the intent that those of us who worked on the bill, and got the bill passed, had in mind.”

“I’m just encouraged that it’s a bipartisan commitment here, to want to make sure that we’re not just talking about good policies and programs, but funding. The investment in the Safer Communities Act is historic and will be a foundation for our action in the future,” said Padilla.

Padilla said he entered mental health advocacy through his wife Angela; her mother lives with bipolar one and Angela has been a caretaker and advocate for her mother.

“She reminds me every day I’m in a position to do something about it, so we are maximizing this opportunity,” said Padilla of his decision to co-found the caucus. “One in four people in America will have some sort of mental health struggle, or a condition in the course of their life. That really touches everybody directly, or indirectly.”

Tillis said he experienced mania and profound depression when he was on a medication in 2007. He said the experience gave him insight into the needed work on mental health issues.

“I think it’s something we probably should have worked on 50 years ago,” Tillis said. “When you’re talking about behavioral health, it is a physical health condition, it’s not a choice, it’s another example of where the body isn’t working exactly right and we need tools to help people get to the right place.”

So far, the caucus has 10 members: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, John Fetterman, D-Pa., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

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