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    Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Former Senator Mark Begich

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    BEGICH (for himself, Mr. Blumenthal, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Rubio, Mrs. Shaheen, Mr. Reed, Mr. Blunt, Ms. Stabenow, Mr. Tester, and Mr. Coons): S. 153. A bill to amend section 520J of the Public Health Service Act to authorize grants for mental health first aid training programs; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

    MR. BEGICH. Mr. President, today I rise to introduce a very important piece of legislation--the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013. The bill authorizes grants for mental health first aid, similar to the first aid training offered by Red Cross chapters across the United States.

    I introduced this bill last Congress and focused on higher education because many common mental illnesses happen at late adolescence or young adulthood. However, as the recent tragedy in Newtown reminded us in horrific detail, violence is not limited to college campuses.

    My colleague on the House side, Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, has already introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. As you know, he was critically wounded in a tragic shooting 2 years ago with then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

    Mental health first aid teaches the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders, crisis de- escalation techniques and equips college and university staff with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental health care.

    One in four adults and 10 percent of children in the United States will suffer from a mental illness this year. We know what to do if someone has a heart attack, but how do we react to someone having a panic disorder? Why do we wait for a tragic event to take notice and then bring out emergency measures? When I was Mayor of Anchorage, we worked with local mental health organizations to train our police in Crisis Intervention Teams, a great improvement for police officers responding to a crisis. But now we need to go further.

    You have heard me say this before, and it is not something to be proud of: In Alaska we have one of the highest suicide prevalence rates in the country. Further, we are a very rural State, where access to mental health care and medical services is often very difficult.

    Even today, it is not widely known that fully \2/3\ of Alaska can only be accessed by airplane. By educating the general public about the warning signs of common mental disorders, we can intervene early, facilitate access to care, improve clinical outcomes, reduce costs, and maybe save lives.

    Mental disorders are more common than heart disease and cancer combined and a recent Governing magazine article reports that many States and localities are moving ahead--teaching their employees how to recognize the signs of mental health problems and how to help. Wouldn't you run to perform the Heimlich maneuver if a person was choking in a restaurant? Of course. We should all learn how to intervene with someone who is having a mental health crisis.

    In the Alaska tradition, I seek to work across the aisle and believe this legislation merits bipartisan support. I am honored to be joined by my cosponsors on this bill, Senators Blumenthal, Bennett, Ayotte, Rubio, Shaheen, Blunt, Stabenow and Jack Reed. I invite you and all of our colleagues to join me in supporting this vital program. My great hope is it will avert suffering, prevent violence and ultimately save lives.


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