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Bill Would Fund Research On COVID's Impact On Mental Health

Rep. Paul Tonko speaks Thursday over Zoom
Zoom/screen capture by WAMC
Rep. Paul Tonko speaks Thursday over Zoom

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would support research to investigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. 

Capital Region Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko joined Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and mental health advocates Thursday to discuss their new legislation being called the Mental Health Research Act. Also sponsoring the legislation are Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and New York Republican Congressman John Katko of Central New York.

“Our Mental Health Research Act, which Senator Klobuchar and I introduced with Congressman Katko and Senator Kaine, on a bipartisan, bicameral basis this week undertakes this vital and, frankly, long overdue work to examine the mental health impacts of COVID-19 especially for our medical professionals, our emergency responders, and our children,” said Tonko.

The legislation would direct $100 million a year for the next five years to the National Institute of Mental Health. Senator Klobuchar says COVID has not allowed those affected by the loss of a loved one to go through the typical rituals of the grieving process. She says communities of color have been especially affected.

“And while we do have research on the impact of long-term stress and trauma, we have never experienced anything of this magnitude for this long period of time, and affecting so many people. This bill will help us learn bout the pandemic and the impact on our mental health, understand resiliency, evaluate how telehealth worked and didn’t work any why, and find new ways to improve access to needed treatment and support especially for the BIPOC community,” said Klobuchar.

Dr. Brenda Robinson, CEO of the Black Nurses Coalition, Inc., and Chair of the City of Albany Commission on Human Rights, says healthcare workers have paid a particular price during the pandemic.

“This price we pay is mental and physical. It’s been emotionally scarring to watch patients die. And even to watch bodies pile up that look like me. As a black woman and a nurse, I carry generational trauma of historically poor race relations of this country. This is now compounded with the suffering of COVID-19. And let me tell you, healthcare professionals, all frontline workers, we all carry this trauma of COVID-19 together. Together,” said Robinson.

The bill would also support research on how children are affected. Andrea Smyth is Executive Director of the New York State Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health.

“We know children are affected by their experiences. And we know that positive childhood development is disrupted by trauma and adverse experiences. The disruption, if not addressed, may affect a child throughout life. Not just their mental health, their health, their happiness, their relationships, their productivity. It’s also true and well established in the children’s mental health field that having the right interventions at the right moment can have a positive impact for years,” said Smyth.

The officials on Thursday’s call said the Mental Health Research Act would complement federal support for mental health services. The recently signed American Rescue Act COVID relief package includes $4 billion for mental health services.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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