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Ferguson, Burgess, Peters, Panetta, Cornyn, King to Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Support Mental and Behavioral Health Services

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Congressmen Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas), Scott Peters (D-Calif), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif), and U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Angus King (I-ME) plan to introduce the Behavioral Intervention Guidelines (BIG) Act to support students’ mental and behavioral health.

This legislation would enable the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and a wide array of stakeholders to develop best practices for the proper use and implementation of behavioral intervention programs to help communities identify the earliest signs of violence to self or others.

“We cannot ignore the mental health ramifications of the pandemic,” Ferguson said. “The devastating medical and economic consequences—compounded by stress and isolation—have profoundly impacted the mental health and well-being of many Americans. The BIG Act works to bring the silent effects of this epidemic out of the shadows by providing local communities and educational systems with the tools to help identify mental health needs before it’s too late. Now more than ever, we need to provide students with the opportunity to thrive in a secure environment while ensuring sure those students approaching a crisis point get the resources they need to lead healthy, productive lives. I am proud the state of Georgia has been a model in addressing mental health issues.”

“This pandemic has challenged every American, including our students,”Burgess said. “School-aged children are at a prime age for identification and treatment of behavioral health issues, which is why it is important that as we work quickly to get them back in the classroom that we also take precautions to ensure their safety on all fronts. By providing training for behavioral health intervention and services, we can work to prevent further tragedy from happening. The BIG Act is critical legislation that will equip schools and communities with the tools they need to ensure the safety and health of each student. I hope that other Members will join us is this effort.”

“We can’t ignore the toll this pandemic has taken on the mental well-being of young people. Students are more stressed and socially isolated than ever before, thrown into virtual learning as they and their families may also be grieving the loss of a job or loved one,” Peters said. “The BIG Act’s focus on developing and implementing evidence-based behavioral intervention practices in schools across the country will ensure youth at risk of harming themselves or others receive the help they need before tragedy occurs. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, it’s critical we invest in mental health resources for our students.”

“Every day, students across the country experience pain and hardship as they struggle with mental health issues, but lack access to the resources they need,”Panetta said. “Our Behavioral Intervention Guidelines Act will proactively identify at-risk students and provide the help they need, preventing them from engaging in self-harm or harming others before it happens. This legislation will put our young people in need on track to mental wellness and keep our schools safe in the process.”

“Months of isolation during the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health of students from our youngest learners to those working towards college degrees,” Cornyn said. “This bill would provide tools for schools to help identify and assist students who may be silently struggling.”

“The challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic have made it even more essential that we prioritize support for our children’s mental health,” King said.“In the days after a tragedy at a school, we too often hear of warning signs for an imminent crisis that went unaddressed. It’s time for a new approach, which lays out guidelines to help identify clear trouble signs for students who may pose a danger to themselves or others – so we can aim to prevent an emergency rather than just responding to one. Let’s pass this bipartisan legislation, so we can give local leaders the tools they need to help keep our communities safe and our children’s futures bright.”

Background:

Educational institutions, including Columbus State University and Texas Tech University, implemented successful behavioral intervention programs following the 2008 tragedy at Virginia Tech University.

The National Association of Behavior Intervention and Threat Assessment (NABITA) describes behavioral intervention as a “focus on a caring and preventive approach that incorporates the school, the district, community resources and the family to support the student. Teams intervene with specialized knowledge to identify the earliest signs of potential crisis rather than waiting for clear signs of an impending threat and reacting. Teams develop success plans for students that may include disability support, treatment requirements, and academic assistance.”

Once established, these best practices are to be disseminated on the HHS department website and HHS would provide technical assistance for elementary, secondary, and higher education institutions that are looking to create their own behavioral intervention team.

This legislation is supported by the NABITA, Columbus State University, Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), Association for Title IX Administrators (ATIXA), National Association of School Psychologist (NASP), NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), School Superintendents Association, National School Boards Association, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, Sandy Hook Promise, the Higher Education Case Manager’s Association (HECMA), and the Jed Foundation (JED).

 

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