Mental Health

Three mental health bills filed in General Assembly

Charlie Megginson Government, Headlines, Health

Mental Health

Lawmakers have filed a package of bills in the General Assembly aimed at addressing Delawareans’ mental health issues.

House Bill 300, sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Delaware City, would create new positions for school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists in all Delaware middle schools.

Longhurst said in a press release that the state is in the midst of a mental health crisis that began well before the pandemic and has only accelerated in the past two years.

“Anyone who has paid attention to this issue should be alarmed at the especially brutal toll this crisis has taken on our children,” she said. “Teachers across the state are seeing it every day in their classrooms. So many of their students come to school with significant unmet needs that impact their ability to learn, such as hunger, homelessness, trauma, and other untreated mental health issues.”

She pointed to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health which found that one in five youth are affected by a mental health disorder, and untreated mental illness has been shown to lead to increased risk of dropout, homelessness, substance abuse, chronic illnesses, incarceration, and possibly suicide. 

The study found that students with access to mental health services in school-based health centers are 10 times more likely to seek care for mental health or substance abuse than youth without access.

House Bill 300 has attracted the support of 21 co-sponsors, including 17 Democrats and four Republicans.

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee where it is expected to receive a hearing within 12 legislative days.

House Bill 301, also sponsored by Longhurst, would establish a statewide mental health education curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12.

The curriculum would be tailored to the developmental needs of students at each grade level.

“Even before the pandemic, as many as one in 10 teens and children in this country was experiencing severe depression, while the teen suicide rate has increased by dramatically over the last decade,” said Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington North.

McBride is the chair of the Senate Health & Social Services Committee and the prime Senate sponsor of HB 301.

“Sadly, far too many people never get treatment due to the pervasive stigmas around mental health,” she said. “We can break that cycle once and for all by talking to our kids early and often about their mental health.”

House Bill 301 has earned the support of 16 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats.

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee where it is expected to receive a hearing within 12 legislative days.

House Bill 303, also sponsored by Longhurst, would require Delaware health insurers to cover a yearly behavioral health wellness check for every insured person. 

Longhurst said that requirement would put mental health care on par with other routinely covered preventive health services such as annual physicals and cancer screenings.

The bill would guarantee insurance coverage for one annual, pre-deductible visit with a licensed mental health clinician with at least a master’s degree. 

Under the bill, the wellness check would be required to include a review of the patient’s medical history, an evaluation of adverse childhood experiences and the use of a validated mental health screening tool.

Longhurst said that according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, every dollar invested in mental health can yield up to 10 times the savings in health care, criminal and juvenile justice, and lost productivity.

She said the wellness checks, for example, could diagnose someone with mild depression that could be treated with therapy, while severe depression that goes undetected could require longer-term treatment, costly medication and even more intensive services.

“We encourage people all the time to get an annual physical, enroll in a diabetes prevention program, schedule a mammogram, see your gynecologist, get screened for colon cancer, the list goes on,” she said. “These are all covered by insurance. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health.”

House Bill 303 has attracted the support of 15 co-sponsors including 14 Democrats and one Republican.

The bill has been assigned to the House Health and Human Development Committee where it is expected to receive a hearing within 12 legislative days.

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