Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) recently joined U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Senate colleagues in demanding accessible, comprehensive, and culturally competent mental health care and related services for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We must act quickly to ensure that Tribes, Native communities, and the schools serving Native students – whether at the early childhood, primary, secondary, or post-secondary level – have the resources they need to address the unique mental and behavioral health challenges facing AI/AN youth,” said the lawmakers. “Congress and federal agencies need to support creative solutions to address disparities in access to care and ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not further aggravate these inequities.”
In a letter to federal education and health officials, Senator Cortez Masto and her colleagues said that AI/AN youth already faced mental and behavioral health challenges before the pandemic, and may have an especially hard time accessing care during COVID-19. The digital divide in Indian Country will prevent some AI/AN students from accessing alternative student support services such as tele-mental health care.
On July 23, 2020, Senator Cortez Masto introduced a resolution to designate the month of July as BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month. This bicameral resolution seeks to bring awareness to the disparities in the incidence of mental health-related challenges faced by Black, Indigenous and people of color and encourages Congress to act to address the systemic drivers of those disparities through culturally-informed mental health services.
In addition, Senator Cortez Masto recently introduced the Virtual Peer Support Act to provide grant funding for the transition of behavioral health services to online platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill provides a one-time grant that would enable eligible local, tribal and national organizations who currently offer behavioral health support services to transition from in-person meetings to online platforms. The grant can be used for immediate implementation of peer support programs, virtual transition costs and development of the mental health workforce. It also expands services to meet community needs by offering multilingual or demographic specific services to benefit communities like Veterans, caregivers, seniors and other peer support groups.
The copy of the full letter can be found HERE.