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Hickenlooper, Murkowski Legislation to Expand Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Programs Passes HELP Committee

Dec 12, 2023

Provisions from senators’ bipartisan bill included in SUPPORT Act Reauthorization

WASHINGTON – Today, a negotiated version of U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Lisa Murkowski’s bipartisan Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support Act passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as a provision within the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act.

“Colorado’s on the frontline of the youth mental health crisis,” said Senator Hickenlooper. “Peer-to-peer mental health programs help break the stigma around mental health care and connect students to the resources they need.

“It’s important we look to every option possible as we work to address the youth mental health crisis that impacts young people in Alaska and nationwide, including meeting kids where they are. Incorporating peer-to-peer mental health support programs in schools helps reduce access challenges for students and works to address the mental health crisis currently facing our youth. I’m proud to join Senator Hickenlooper on this effort,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The senators’ original Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support Act would help school districts facilitate peer-to-peer mental health programs in middle and high schools. Provisions of the legislation passed as part of the reauthorization of the SUPPORT Act in today’s HELP markup.

The SUPPORT Act, originally passed in 2018 to help combat the opioid crisis, funds prevention, treatment, and recovery services for Americans with substance use disorders and mental illness. These critical programs need to be reauthorized by Congress this year.

“The University of Colorado Boulder is grateful to Senator Hickenlooper for his leadership on the Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support Act,” said Professor Sona Dimidjian, Director of the Renée Crown Wellness Institute. “There is an urgent need for mental health support for young people in Colorado and across the nation. Research shows peer-to-peer models can increase access, cultural responsiveness, and strengthen the skills needed to support mental health and wellness. The Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support Act is an important first step toward expanding the science of these models and increasing essential mental health support for young people.”

“Mental Health America applauds Senators Hickenlooper and Murkowski and the Senate HELP Committee for moving forward legislation to prioritize and fund youth peer support in schools,” said Mary Giliberti, Chief Public Policy Officer. “Young people who receive peer support services report improvement in their sense of belonging, reduced isolation, and increased self-advocacy skills, which aid in their recovery from mental health and substance use conditions. As we continue to see the mental health crisis worsen in young people, efforts to grow activities in schools that prevent and intervene early are of utmost importance.”

The program would be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in consultation with the Department of Education.

Congressman Don Beyer champions the legislation in the House of Representatives and plans to reintroduce a companion this Congress.

“The suicide rate is at its highest level since 1941. Student-led peer-to-peer initiatives are a key tool that can help prevent needless death, and I’m glad to see it advance on a bipartisan basis,” said Congressman Beyer. “Congress must do all it can to address suicide and mental illness. I thank Senators Hickenlooper and Murkowski for their leadership on this important bill, will continue working on that important effort with colleagues in both parties.”

Full text of the bill available here. View text of the SUPPORT Act here.  


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