Changing Mindset on Mental Health

Floor Speech

Date: July 19, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHNEIDER. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about mental health in general and the need for a different mindset about mental health and care in this country specifically. I stand up tonight for the countless family members, friends, and neighbors across the country as they endure struggles with mental health, either for themselves or for a family member.

The number of Americans battling mental illness or disorder is not small. In fact, over one-half of adults will deal with mental health issues, and one in five children has or will have a debilitating mental illness.

Suicide is now ranked as the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14. Think about that: Suicide is the second leading cause of death.

This is more than simply heartbreaking. We have a problem. That is nearly one death every 11 minutes.

Suicide is a tragic outcome for people dealing with mental crises, but across the country, there are so many dealing in other ways, especially in the midst of this pandemic: working parents trying to make it through the day juggling; parents not working, trying to find ways to make ends meet; kids in remote school losing the opportunity for the social-emotional learning that is so critical for their development; and families juggling remote work and remote school at the same time. All of these have contributed to what is truly a mental health crisis in the country.

In fact, as we think about it, in the same way that young kids and babies born during the Depression were forever known as Depression babies, it is very likely that this generation enduring the pandemic will be COVID babies throughout their lives. It will have an impact.

Beyond that we have the issues of mass violence. I live in Highland Park. Two weeks ago, we experienced something that no community should ever have to go through, but, unfortunately, too many communities have and continue to do so.

Highland Park, Uvalde, we can go back to Sandy Hook, and so many others, it is too long a list to give a comprehensive naming of every single community that has suffered from mass violence.

But, at its core, there is something about these kids committing and perpetrating these heinous crimes, monstrous crimes--if we can reach them at an earlier age, maybe we can reduce some of that violence.

Nor is this an exhaustive list of all the things, all the aspects of mental health that affect people.

We know that the pandemic has made all of us painfully aware of the inadequacies and inequalities of our mental health system. Too late in the process, our system steps in to deal with crises, rather than working on helping people have a strong and confident, healthful life and tackle challenges as they occur. We should be providing holistic mental healthcare and provide support early and often.

At the baseline, Americans are experiencing anxiety and depression at higher rates, and the number of services available just aren't keeping up, putting a crisis on top of a crisis.

For those already suffering from mental health issues, the pandemic has increased their symptoms, and experts worry that we will deal with the stressors and effects long after the official end of this pandemic.

Everywhere I go, in my district, and around the country, I hear stories, some heartbreaking, some just simply frustrating, about people's struggles getting care for themselves and their loved ones. It is not a new problem.

In fact, sharing just a couple of personal stories, my first experience of tragedy in the context of mental health, my best friend as a young child in elementary school, was a boy named David Segal. He was special, kind heart, a brilliant young man. As he aged, we moved apart in middle school. And then I learned that, at age 21, he took his own life.

His parents were told that he felt as if he was locked in a box. He was so smart, and he could see the possibilities available to his friends. He wanted more than anything else what he saw everyone else had, but he knew that it would never be available to him because of the box in which he was locked in. His pain was unbearable and, at 21, he took his life.

Years later, I lost a cousin, Jeff, whose pain was also all- consuming. He tried many times to escape his pain. His family tried to help. We all tried to help. He sought therapy, but, again, that pain was so all-consuming that, ultimately, as a relatively young man, he died by suicide.

Let me come back to the present moment. I have heard from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago that the pandemic has increased the severity of the mental health crisis in children.

During the pandemic, suicide attempts jumped from a pre-pandemic level of two to three per month to two to three each and every day. Before the pandemic, Lurie Children's would get maybe 50 calls a week for new appointments. At the height of the pandemic, they were receiving 50 calls every single day.

A third of clinicians are reporting a 3-month wait time for an appointment, if they even have the room to begin with. In many places, the wait is much, much longer. This massive mismatch of supply and demand impacts the quality of care those with appointments are able to receive.

Providers have empathy and compassion fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and are less personal and less connected with their patients.

Older Americans, some of the most vulnerable in our society, are at an increased risk. High levels of isolation increase their risk of depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Already, 20 percent--20 percent of those 55 or older typically experience some form of anxiety and depression to severe cognitive impairment.

Additionally, mental health does not only afflict those who have been diagnosed, it touches many other parts of our society. In 2008, Thomas R. Insel, then the leader of the National Institute of Mental Health, estimated that mental illness costs our economy about $193 billion-- $193 billion each year in lost earnings.

8.4 million Americans are providing about 32 hours of uncompensated care per week to those with mental healthcare needs, whether family or friends. Leaving mental illness unaddressed results in the increased incarceration of people with unmet mental health needs. Those dealing with stressors related to mental health are left more susceptible to the overuse of drugs and alcohol.

Despite the pervasiveness of mental health issues, less than half of adults with any mental health condition received treatment in 2020. For Americans of color, the rate of those getting treatment is even less than the national average.

I find the current landscape of mental health in America simply unacceptable. Every day we fail to take strong action to bolster mental healthcare services is another day closer to failing our friends, our family, our neighbors. That is why making access to the appropriate mental health resources cheaper and easier is critical.

I want to share with you one example of how the mental health crisis affects one of our most important population groups, our youth.

Last year, I received a letter from a high school senior outlining her findings about the disparities in mental health resources at her school. She highlighted the value placed on new gym flooring and new scoreboards, but the lack of investment in mental health counselors.

She shared that they lost a classmate early in the year to suicide. She had also become more aware of so-called suicide websites and social media's influence on our children's mental health.

I applaud the initiative of that high schooler writing to me and voicing her concern. Each of us has a responsibility to not only reach out for help, but to advocate for our neighbors who feel powerless and are left to struggle.

Another story I want to share is that of a dear, young, beautiful woman, 19-year-old Orli Sheffey from my town. Orli was a light that shined brightly. In fact, her name means, my light.

She was a tenacious journalist and beloved friend with a passion for the pursuit of truth and justice. She strongly believed in the need to provide mental health services, to the point where she was training to provide confidential peer counseling services to her classmates.

Sufficient mental health services possibly could have saved Orli's life. Orli's time with us is not about how she left us, but it is about the impact she made while she was here, an impact that is still felt by so many today.

No parent should lose their child at such a young age.

We also lost Brian Kroeter's younger sister, Katie, who died by suicide at 25. She was completing her master's degree in social work and was active in the community with programs like Meals on Wheels. The family has carried on Katie's memory through their suicide prevention advocacy work and Brian's participation in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in honor of his sister.

Our unmet health needs reach from our youth to our Nation's heroes. When it comes to veterans who defend our Nation and our freedom, we are losing 22 to suicide every day.

When it comes to our cops and firefighters, we fail to recognize that their on-the-job trauma is crushing to their mental health and well- being.

Jeff Smith was a Metropolitan police officer whose family lives in my district. He was dispatched to the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and suffered injuries, both visible and not, in defending us, in defending me that very day. His father shared with me that those injuries and the combination of the stigma around mental health and the lack of access to care contributed to his terrible loss.

We must do better if we want to honor Officer Jeff Smith. We must do better if we want to honor our veterans, if we want to honor Orli Sheffey, and if we want to honor all those we have lost to terrible mental health issues of all stripes.

Fortunately, I have some positive news to share that is giving me hope and optimism about this mental health crisis. Here in the House, we passed the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022 to holistically address American's mental health and crisis care needs.

One program I am glad this legislation will help strengthen is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is now 988. Moving to the 988 phone number is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for America to strengthen and expand an existing lifeline to everyone and ensure that everyone is aware of this new service.

The nationwide number will allow people to call or text a trained crisis counselor who can provide critical help, whether it is thoughts of suicide, mental health, or a substance use crisis. No matter where you are in the country, a well-resourced 988 line will be able to:

Connect a person in a mental health crisis to a trained counselor who can address their immediate needs and help connect them to ongoing care.

Mitigate healthcare spending with more cost-effective early intervention.

Help reduce the use of law enforcement to treat mental health issues.

Meet the rising need for crisis intervention on a grand scale and, importantly, help end the stigma toward these seeking or accessing mental healthcare.

The creation and launch of 988 fills me with hope and optimism that this will not be the last action we take. We will have to make sure that mental health resources are adequately funded for Americans and our healthcare providers, and properly managed if we want to see proper success.

I will continue to fight for the belief that access to affordable quality healthcare is our right for every American, not just a reserved privilege for a select few.

Wild), a dear friend and colleague.


Mr. SCHNEIDER. Thank you for your remarkable words, for sharing your perspective and expressing compassion I think we can all share.

It is now my privilege to recognize my friend from Michigan, Representative Elissa Slotkin.


Mr. SCHNEIDER. Thank you, Representative Slotkin. Thank you for those beautiful words. Thank you, Representative Wild.

We have a national crisis. It needs a national response. We are a caring Nation. It is reflected in the outreach across the Nation when a community is struck by tragedy, whether it is a mass shooting or a flood, hurricane, whatever the case may be.

We see it in the response of individuals lending a helping hand when they see someone fall on a curb or down a stair. It is who we are as a people. We need to extend that when we think about our mental health crisis and mental healthcare. We have to do so much to try to address the stigma.

In the same way, if you think of a world-class athlete who is trying to achieve their highest potential, no one says going to seek assistance of a coach or advice of a friend is a shortcoming.

When it comes to dealing with the challenges of life, too often that outreach for assistance, that simple ask, help me get through this moment, isn't made because people are afraid of how they will be judged. Yet, even if we address the stigma, we still have the challenge of access as we talked here tonight--not enough providers, not enough quality services.

Everyone in this country deserves access to quality, affordable, and available care. We need to make sure that we are investing in training providers to provide services across our country and making sure that those services are available at a price that people can truly afford.

We need to recognize that care for our mental health is every bit as important as care for our physical health. Think about it. If a child is diagnosed with cancer at a young age, we have poured billions of dollars into research to try to cure those cancers, and we are investing thousands, if not millions of dollars, in treating individuals and having great results. Kids with cancer today have a much higher likelihood of beating that cancer back and reaching their full potential.

The same is true for diseases we might face in middle age or even treating our seniors. We are working so hard to address that. We need to do the same for mental health and mental healthcare.

We need to recognize that the care for a challenge, a mental health challenge, is every bit as real and deserves every bit as much investment as the care for a physical health challenge.

We are a caring Nation. We know we have a crisis. I am hopeful that this body will continue to do its work to try to address this crisis for the people we represent.

I am grateful for the great words, kind words, insightful words, compassionate words of my colleagues, and I am thankful for the work of this body.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.