WASHINGTON, DC—Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the Community Mental Wellness & Resilience Act, a bipartisan bill that will tackle the nation’s mental health crisis head-on by addressing the extensive community trauma caused by natural disasters. This innovative legislation will empower communities through a new federal grant program to craft their own locally specific responses to the mental health problems caused by disasters and toxic stresses.
“In 2021, more than forty percent of Americans lived in a county that was impacted by a natural disaster,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “As a result, the number of individuals who experienced a mental health problem often outweighed those with physical injuries. That is why I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation alongside my colleague, Representative Tonko, to expand our nation’s mental health care services on a local level.”
“In 2021 alone, more than 1 in 5 American adults experienced a diagnosed mental illness,” Congressman Tonko said. “And with more than 40 percent of Americans living in a county impacted by a major natural disaster last year and countless more living with toxic stresses, it is increasingly clear that worsening severe weather patterns are contributing to this crisis. Natural disasters bring significant upheaval and real trauma to our communities, and it is time for Congress to take action to empower those communities to respond to this growing challenge. I’m proud to lead the way on this resilience building legislation that will help address our nation’s mental health crisis through grants and partnerships with local, community-based initiatives. I’ll continue to work to deliver science-based, evidence-informed solutions that benefit communities across our region and our nation.”
In addition to the studies showing that nearly 50 million American adults suffered from a diagnosed mental illness last year, a 2022 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that more than a third of American high school students reported poor mental health, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Natural disasters only exacerbate the problem, with surveys showing more than 40 percent of those directly impacted by a disaster traumatized by the experience. Consequently, the number of people who experience a mental health problem as a result of a natural disaster often outweigh those with physical injuries by 40 to 1.
The Community Mental Wellness & Resilience Act addresses this growing problem by:
- Establishing a competitive grant program at the CDC to create, operate, or expand community-based programs that use a public health approach to build mental wellness and resilience
- These programs will work to enhance the capacity of all residents for mental wellness and resilience to prevent and heal mental health problems generated by disasters and toxic stresses
- Community initiatives will develop their own age and culturally appropriate strategies to enhance and sustain population-level mental wellness and resilience, with specific attention to high-risk individuals
The legislation has garnered support from Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), who is an original cosponsor, as well as more than 100 organizations, including: American Lung Association; American Public Health Association; American Psychiatric Association; American Psychological Association, ecoAmerica; Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice; Climate Psychiatry Alliance; International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC); Mental Health America; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); The National Association of Social Workers (NASW); National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors; National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
A list of supporting organizations and organization quotes can be found HERE.
A fact sheet on the legislation can be found HERE.