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Murkowski: It’s “Way Past Time” for Mental Health Conversation

Senator Inquires about “Inroads” on Youth Intervention, Fight Against Suicide in Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Lisa Murkowski took part in the first Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee hearing to focus on America’s mental health care since 2007 – saying it was “way past time” for the committee to take up the issue – focusing her attention on Alaska’s critical fight against youth suicide and the latest efforts to identify mental and behavioral issues early in childhood to improve outcomes across the country, especially in rural America.

In her opening remarks (clip one below), Senator Murkowski outlined her recent legislation to prevent suicides in young Americans, adding “I find it troubling that in everything we do that we cannot seem to make inroads” on this long-time priority and national need.

In her first question, Senator Murkowski asked Pamela Hyde of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) what the latest efforts are at America’s universities and campuses for early intervention with troubled students – questioning whether there is enough flexibility for professionals to take sufficient action.  Hyde (clip two below) responded that a new Surgeon General report has created an atmosphere of awareness and action on campuses and “after care” treatment that makes sure counseling delivers better-lasting results.

Murkowski then asked National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel whether primary care physicians are being suitably trained and prepared to identify and treat the earliest signs of mental health issues in Americans – saying “what is the administration doing to support primary care and improve the training opportunities?”  Insel informed Murkowski (clip three above) that improvements are needed, there’s no ‘biomarkers’ like those you can determine in blood tests for other health problems, and that cognitive tests are being developed for a long-term approach – but that awareness among teens and pre-teens is the short-term answer.

An overriding concern of Senator Murkowski throughout her questioning was access to primary health care for mental issues in rural America – a sentiment seconded by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) later in the hearing, who lauded Murkowski’s efforts and energy in this area. Just yesterday, Senator Murkowski introduced The Garrett Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization with her colleague Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to strengthen the support and care for mental illness in American youth nationwide.

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