Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators John Fetterman (D-PA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the United States Senate Commission on Mental Health Act of 2024. The bill would establish a U.S. Senate Commission on Mental Health tasked with providing Congress and the president independent, expert policy recommendations to improve access to and affordability of mental health care services.

“Before I sought help for my depression, I was the biggest cynic – but it truly worked,” said Senator Fetterman. “Mental health challenges impact people all across Pennsylvania and the country – from our reddest counties to our bluest, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns. I’m committed to ensuring that everyone suffering from mental health challenges has access to the same resources and treatment that I did. This bill will help make that the reality. I’m proud to lead it with Senator Smith.”

“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Senator Smith. “More than 1 in 5 Americans struggle with their mental health, and new research and treatment is needed. The Senate Mental Health Commission Bill is a critical step towards improving the state of mental health research and treatment in our nation, and I am proud to join my colleague Senator Fetterman to lead this charge.”

Senators Fetterman and Smith have both been outspoken about their own struggles with mental health. They are also both members of the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus.

Senator Fetterman’s decision to openly seek treatment for depression within his first few months in office transformed the national conversation surrounding mental health on Capitol Hill. Given his closeness to this issue, Senator Fetterman is dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental health struggles and continuing to improve ease and access to services and treatment.

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee, Senator Smith is a leader in the fight to make mental health care more affordable and accessible. As part of the American Rescue Plan, Smith passed bipartisan provisions with Senator Murkowski to provide expanded access to community based mental health care and harm reduction services. She has also introduced a host of bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing mental health services for students, improving integrated care, increasing access to tele-mental health, and investing in the mental health workforce. In 2023, Smith joined with a group of colleagues in the Senate to launch the bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus. Smith has also spoken on the Senate floor and regularly shares her story about her personal experience with depression in an effort to destigmatize talking about mental health.

As of 2021, approximately 26 million Americans have experienced at least one major depressive episode. This number includes roughly 5 million young adults between the ages of 12 and 17, a devastating 20% of the U.S. adolescent population according to the NIH.

The Commission’s first year of study would focus on the following topics:

The Commission would submit to Congress, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and, as appropriate, the heads of other relevant federal agencies, an annual report based on studies carried out that year. Each annual report would include (1) an analysis of current barriers to accessing affordable and equitable mental health care services, challenges facing the mental health care workforce, and efforts by local, State, and Tribal entities to improve mental health care services and delivery and (2) policy recommendations for Congress and the president to address issues detailed in the report. This report would also include a comprehensive needs assessment and gap analysis across the continuum of mental health care services.

The United States Senate Commission on Mental Health is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Too many people struggling with their mental health aren’t getting the care they need. We need to do better,” said Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “To address our nation’s mental health crisis, we will need collaboration and leadership from Congress, federal policymakers, and key stakeholders. NAMI thanks the senators for introducing the U.S. Senate Commission on Mental Health Act and is proud to stand with them in endorsing this legislation to continue to work toward solutions that gets every person the help and care they need.”

“While the United States has made great strides over the last decade towards acknowledging and supporting the mental health needs of individuals across the country, suicide remains a grave public health threat which requires a comprehensive and coordinated public health response,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “AFSP applauds the senators for introducing this bill to establish a Senate Commission on Mental Health to explore solutions to ensure mental health parity, improve reimbursement for mental health care and expand the mental health workforce. This bill represents a critical step in the direction of making affordable, effective mental health care accessible to all – saving lives that might be lost to suicide.”

Full text of the bill can be found here.