Washington (May 4, 2023) – During Mental Health Awareness Month, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security, and Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-20) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) today reintroduced their Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act (CMWRA), legislation to establish a first-of-its-kind $36 million pilot grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide funding to local community-based mental wellness and resilience programs. These programs would be designed to address the compounding mental health crisis that frontline environmental justice communities face as they bear the brunt of the climate crisis, including extreme weather events, natural disasters, epidemics and rising temperatures. Existing mental health and human services lack the capacity to meet the growing and urgent need for mental health care; the CMWRA would focus resources on bringing mental health support to rural and underserved people who often cannot afford treatment, experience stigmatization, or face other systemic injustices embedded in the U.S. health care system. Nearly 50 million American adults suffered from a diagnosed mental illness last year, and a CDC report found that more than a third of American high school students suffer from poor mental health, including stress, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the climate crisis.
“Environmental justice communities are bearing the brunt of compounded climate and mental health crises fueled by climate disasters that level homes, break apart communities, and leave people with visible and invisible scars,” said Senator Markey. “The Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act is a central to our vision for a Green New Deal future that addresses not only the health of our planet but the health of our people. This legislation will give communities the resources they need to build defenses to these dual crises and ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for all.”
“The increasing number and severity of natural disasters and toxic stresses cost our communities dearly, taking lives and livelihoods—and the trauma felt from these disasters runs even further,” said Representative Tonko. “Studies show that these impactful events can traumatize upwards of 40 percent of those who live in the affected area. That’s why I’m partnering with my colleagues 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 nation and offer a holistic response to the climate crisis.”
“In 2022, more than 3 million Americans were impacted by a natural disaster,” said Representative Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that expands our nation’s mental health resources at the local level with community-based initiatives, ensuring that victims of natural disasters have access to critical mental health care.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE and a one-pager can be found HERE.
Cosponsors of the legislation include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Representatives Don Bacon (NE-02), Kathy Castor (FL-12), and Mary Peltola (AK).
For years, Senator Markey has brought attention to the interconnection between climate change and health care policy. Last month, Senator Markey and Representative Ro Khanna (CA-17) introduced the Green New Deal for Health to enable the U.S. health care system to respond to climate change by improving sustainability and supporting patients, providers, and communities. Also in April, Senator Markey applauded the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for heeding his call to modernize the energy infrastructure of health care facilities by issuing a new waiver that will allow U.S. health care facilities to transition to safer, cheaper, and more reliable clean energy infrastructure in the form of renewable-powered microgrids or independent electric grids. In June 2022, Senator Markey applauded the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for its bipartisan vote to move forward with his Preventing Health Emergencies and Temperature-related (HEAT) Illness and Deaths Act, legislation to address the increasing health risks of extreme heat. In August 2021, Senator Markey and Matt Cartwright (PA-18) applauded the Biden administration for heeding their call to create the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, a climate and health program under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that mirrors their Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act introduced in May 2021.
“The fact that 130 national, regional, state, and local organizations endorse the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 shows that professionals nationwide see the need to expand the way we address mental health issues to include community-based initiatives that use a public health approach to build population mental wellness and resilience to prevent and heal mental health problems,” said Bob Doppelt, coordinator of the International Transformational Resilience Coalition.
“The American Psychiatric Association strongly supports the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act or 2023,” said Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association. “This forward-thinking proposal would authorize grants focused on strategies to enhance the ability of communities to confront the mental health impacts of acute and long-term disruptions from natural disasters, as well as other public health impacts of climate change. APA strongly supports this legislation to foster resilience and mental wellness in communities across the nation.”
“Social workers are on the front-line assisting individuals and families that experience the accelerating distresses generated by extreme weather events and their many consequences,” said Anthony Estreet, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers. “We know from first-hand experience that forming mutual support networks in neighborhoods and communities is vital to preventing and healing the personal, family, and social problems that can result from these adversities. NASW strongly supports the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 because it will fund community efforts to build population mental wellness and resilience.”
“Over 40 counties and communities in North Carolina have multi-sector coalitions that are working to address the stress load of residents from various realms of ‘ACEs’—including Adverse Childhood, Adverse Community, Adverse Climate, and Atrocious Cultural Events. Funding provided by the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 could help sustain these grassroots organizations and the valuable work they are doing to educate, respond, and work on mental health prevention,”’ said Mebane Boyd, Resilience Community Officer of North Carolina Partnership for Children.
“The mental health impacts of climate change must be considered in discussions on how to address this public health crisis,” said Katie Huffling, Executive Director at Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Unfortunately, our current health system is not prepared to adequately care for those burdened by climate change. Nurses understand the importance of the proactive and holistic approach that is the foundation of the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023. The rapidly worsening climate crisis requires multidisciplinary solutions along with input from and consideration for communities most impacted. Passage of the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 is a much needed step towards building resilience and promoting mental wellness in the wake of the growing climate crisis. Members of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments will continue to call on elected officials to pass this necessary legislation.”
“We need to give equal attention to preventing and healing the psychological consequences of the increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters as we do on building more resilient physical infrastructure,” said Dr. David Shern, Senior Associate at the Department of Mental Health Bloomberg School of Public Health, Senior Public Health Advisor at National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and former President and CEO of Mental Health America. “It is critical that these population health issues be addressed systematically and quickly. Fortunately, we have tools to address this challenge, but need policies and investments to implement them. The Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 is essential in meeting these challenges.”
“The Community Mental Wellness and Resiliency Act of 2023 is essential to create the infrastructure throughout the United States needed to prepare our citizens for the array of mental health challenges resulting from toxic stresses and acute climate events,” said Elaine Miller-Karas, co-Founder and Director of Innovation at the Trauma Resource Institute. “Our organization works in the U.S. and we have seen a systemic lack of preparedness to respond to the mental health challenges people face before, during, and after these traumatic stressors. This policy is urgently needed to support coordinated community-based initiatives and should be embraced as a national priority.”
“We know how to build strong resilient communities,” said Becky Turner, Director of Community Engagement at the Community Resilience Initiative. ‘“We follow the science, and we put our focus on weaving trauma-informed and resilience-based practices into the very fabric of our community. Data confirms that the use of resilience-based practices can help communities overcome adversity and related health outcomes. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, we have renewed urgency to pass the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 to ensure all communities have access to this life-saving and revelatory framework.”’
“America's current approach to persistent stresses and disasters is too reactionary, focused on providing support only after a traumatic event,” said Jesse Kohler, Executive Director of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice. “The Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023 will build community partnerships to help residents prepare for and respond in constructive ways to adversities. Resilient communities reduce the mental health consequences that can ripple through the community and help residents heal when traumas do occur. We thank Representatives Tonko and Fitzpatrick and Senator Markey and all of the co-sponsors for their leadership on this important legislation.”
“The American Public Health Association strongly supports the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of American Public Health Association. “The widespread mental health issues we see today due to extreme weather events, other disasters and a multitude of rising stresses are a major concern. Solutions require the use of a public health approach to mental wellness and resilience in communities. APHA endorses this legislation because it will fund and support communities that use this approach.”
The legislation is endorsed by more than 130 organizations, including the 18th Street Arts Center, 350 Eugene, Able-Differently, Afterschool Alliance, Alliance for Positive Health, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Aloka Earth Room, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, American Association on Health and Disability, American Association on Health and Disability, American Family Therapy Academy, Inc., American Lung Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU), BasicNeeds US, Inc., Beaver Hollow, Birch BayBlaine Thrives, Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy & Practice, CAN Climate Action Net, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Children's Environmental Health Network, Climate Generation, Climate Health Now, Climate Mental Health Network, Climate Psychiatry Alliance, Climate Psychology Alliance - North America, Climate Resilience Fund, Climate Resilience Leadership, LLC, Clinical Social Work Association, Clinical Social Work Association, Columbia Resilience, Committee for Children, Community Resilience Initiative, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy, EARTHDAY.ORG, ecoAmerica, EcoInfluencer Academy, Educational Sustainability Mobilization Inc, Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Factor 10 Inc., Family Focused Treatment Association, Finger Lakes Community Schools, Futures Without Violence, Generation Up (GENup), Glenn County Office of Education, Good Grief Network, Health Care Without Harm, Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health, Indivisible ReSisters Walnut Creek, Inseparable, Interfaith Power & Light, International OCD Foundation, International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC), Jen Johnson, MS, MFA, LCMHC, Jennifer G. Gordon PhD PC, KLBRI, Lakeshore Foundation, Lieberman Group, Inc., Mental Health America, Mental Health America of the Palm Beaches, Metta Foundation, Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, Moms Clean Air Force, MUYUMPA - Centro de Formación en Terapia Comunitaria, NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, National Association for Children's Behavioral Health, National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW), National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, National Association of Regional Councils, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Directors, National Compadres Network, National Federation of Families, National League for Nursing, National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, National Rural Health Association, Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, New Leaf Counseling, A Private Practice, LLC, NH Healthcare Workers for Climate Action, One Shared Spirit, Organic Intelligence, Our Climate, Peace4Tarpon, Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter, Post Carbon Institute, Prevent Child Abuse New York, Prevention Institute, Reaching Resiliency, Resilience Climbing, Resilience United, Resilient Brunswick County, Rising Communities (formerly Community Health Councils), Rural Health Network of SCNY, Rural Opportunity Institute, Sabater Laboratory for Psychological Innovations Inc., SabaterLAB Foundation, San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, Save the Children, Schools for Climate Action, Seneca County Community Schools, SolaVida, Start Early, Susanne Moser Research & Consulting, The Blueford Group, The Children's Agenda, The Jed Foundation, The Kennedy Forum, The National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health, The Resiliency Group, The Resiliency Initiative, The Resilient Activist, Thinkwell, LLC., Towson Therapy Group, Trauma & Resilience Inc., Trauma & Resilience Initiative Inc., Trauma Healing Project, Trauma Informed Oregon, Trauma Resource Institute, Truly Well, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network, Vermont Climate and Health Alliance, Visible Hands Collaborative, Whatcom Family & Community Network, and Win Climate.