For nearly 70 years, the United States has recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Although much has been done since then to destigmatize mental illness, expand access to treatment, and encourage patients to seek care, there is more work to be done.

   Even everyday activities and responsibilities can cause difficulty and stress that, if left unchecked, may increase the incidence or severity of mental health conditions that can affect our daily lives, overall health and well-being. Prevention and awareness not only save lives, but are also essential to reducing the burden these conditions can have on individuals, families, and communities across the country. Effective treatment is necessary for individuals with mental health conditions to recover and lead full, productive lives.

   Given the crucial role mental health plays in our lives, now more than ever we need to act to make mental health research and treatment a priority in our

society – and government can play an important role. We need to encourage robust funding for agencies like the National Institute of Mental Health which focuses efforts on research related to mental illness and suicide prevention.       There is still much work to be done, which is why I introduced bipartisan

legislation that would allow Americans to contribute by purchasing postage stamps that benefit Mental Health Awareness programs.

   We also need to expand access to mental health care providers and treatments. Through the Medicare Mental Health Access Act I co-

sponsored, my colleagues and I are working to allow clinical psychologists to provide their full range of services to Medicare beneficiaries in order to increase access to care.

   I’m also proud of my work to encourage mental health among our veterans. Through House passage of the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Health Act, we’re one step closer to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providing

former members of the Armed Forces with initial mental health assessments and any services they need to treat the veteran’s urgent mental health care needs, including risk of suicide or harming others.

   Lastly, we need to stop the overcriminalization of those with mental health conditions and redirect them to the appropriate services that help them make positive contributions to their communities and reduce the chances of reoffending. As a supporter of the SAFE Justice Act, I want to ensure the federal government encourages judicial districts across the country to open mental health courts and increase the use of evidence-based sentencing. I’m also fighting to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which includes a grant program that helps provide a range of services, including mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment programs.

   We need to do more to not only encourage those who may be suffering to seek treatment, but also ensure they don’t fall through the cracks or

get trapped in local or federal bureaucracies that may not be making mental health a priority. Regrettably, as we’ve seen time and time again, without treatment, those suffering from mental illness can cause serious harm to not just themselves, but also members of their family, friends, and even innocent bystanders.

    This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s pledge to do more to not only encourage individuals to reach out for treatment, but also fight for policies that expand access to care and make mental health a priority.

Carlos Curbelo, (R) represents FL 26th District.

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