Lawmakers of color propose more school funding to diversify mental health field

Written by on April 11, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — Less than a year after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a public health advisory calling attention to a crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection across the country, Rep. Jamaal Bowman says he was spurred on to call for more funding for the next generation of mental health providers — particularly those in minority communities.

Bowman’s new bill, introduced in the House on Wednesday, would provide grants to historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions to create, expand or improve graduate-level programs in mental health fields.

The proposal, which was endorsed by the American Psychological Association, the American Federation of Teachers and other groups, would provide $10,000 to each school per student in their corresponding program.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and has garnered more than a dozen other Democratic co-sponsors, all of whom are lawmakers of color.

“There’s a mental health crisis in our country amongst our children, and we need all hands on deck and additional resources to respond,” Bowman, a New York Democrat, told ABC News in an interview.

“That crisis disproportionately impacts Black or Latino kids, and that’s why we need to invest in these institutions,” he said.

The colleges and universities have also long grappled with less funding than predominantly white schools, Bowman said.

“I want all institutions to really invest in the mental health of our peers, because I don’t want any kid to suffer, but HBCUs and [minority-serving schools] are historically underfunded institutions in comparison,” he said.

“Because of that historic under-funding, is the point that we start there because they need the influx of resources,” he said.

As of 2021, only 8% of the psychological workforce in America was Hispanic, 5% was Black and 3% was Asian, which is disproportionately lower than their share of the population, Bowman’s office said.

His bill, The Access In Mental Health Act, is in response to what he calls obstacles to high-quality and culturally responsive care for marginalized communities because of the disparity in diversity for mental health workers.

At the same time, Black children are “nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than White children,” Murthy, the surgeon general, wrote in his public health advisory last year.

Murthy added: “Socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents–for instance, those growing up in poverty–are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than peers with higher socioeconomic status.”

Black children were also more likely than any other group of children to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, federal health officials have said.

Bowman’s connection to the issue is firsthand, he said: While he was a middle school principal in the Bronx, in the year before deciding to run for Congress in 2020, 17 children died by suicide in his borough, he said.

“I saw a rise in suicide ideation and suicidal ideation amongst my kids,” he said, including “amongst my Latina students.”

While the fate of Bowman’s bill is unclear in the House, which is run by Republicans, he said he feels personally connected to the issue.

“I lived and experienced the crisis in real-time,” he said.

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