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May 27, 2021

Rep. Trone Introduces Legislation to Increase Mental Health Services in Schools with Congressional Fellow Dr. Suneel Agerwala


Contact: Hannah Muldavin, 

Rep. Trone Introduces Legislation to Increase Mental Health Services in Schools with Congressional Fellow Dr. Suneel Agerwala

Rep. David Trone with Dr. Suneel Agerwala. Watch the full conversation here.

WASHINGTON — As rising numbers of children deal with social isolation and mental health challenges from the pandemic, U.S. Representative David Trone (MD-06) announced today that he introduced the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act of 2021. The legislation would fund pilot programs in primary and secondary schools to fully fund mental and behavioral health prevention and intervention programs aimed at mitigating mental health issues among students.

The legislation comes at a time when an increasing number of children are suffering from mental illness as a result of the loneliness and loss caused by the pandemic. A 2021 report from Mental Health America (MHA) indicates that more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from March through October of 2020, the proportion of children between the ages of 5 and 11 visiting an emergency department because of a mental health crisis climbed 24 percent compared to the same time period in 2019, and 31 percent for children between the ages of 12 and 17. Experts agree that the full effects of increased loss, social isolation, uncertainty, and trauma may not manifest for years, and schools must be prepared to deal with this in a preventative, comprehensive, and long-term fashion.

Dr. Suneel Agerwala, a fellow in Trone’s office, worked closely with Trone in crafting the legislation. Dr. Agerwala is a Resident Psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, located in the Bronx NY, who joined Trone’s legislative operation for a year to bring expertise in mental health to the office. The duo discussed the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act of 2021 in a recorded conversation you can view here.

“With mental health declining at an astounding rate, we need to act fast to ensure our children get the mental health care they desperately need,” said Representative Trone. “This program will put preventative measures in place, deliver more resources for support, and ensure that low-income students have access to treatment. I’m proud to be introducing the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act, and I truly believe we will be making a difference in the lives of those who are most in need. ”

“The lack of social interaction can actually be interpreted as trauma and emotional distress, and that’s leading to the impacts on mental health we’re seeing. That’s what makes this bill so important,” said Dr. Suneel Agerwala. “I really have to thank you for giving the initial direction on this bill.  The thought behind it is really to step back and do three things. First, talk to all of the experts in the field and figure out in a perfect world what would mental health services look like for the entire spectrum of education. Second, fund those comprehensive mental health services for our students. And, third, measure the results so we can show the benefits of investing in mental health.”  

“This bill recognizes the need to approach student mental health in a comprehensive way and emphasizes prevention by putting evidence-based social-emotional learning at its core,” said Andrea Lovanhill, CEO of Committee for Children. “It will help millions of students develop coping and communication skills, stress-management techniques, and emotion identification and management methods. Ultimately, it equips young people with tools and resources to address mental health challenges before they arise. Committee for Children is proud to support this bill.”

“The Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act recognizes the importance of fostering positive, equitable classroom environments and that the relationship among the cognitive, social and emotional and academic development of children is interactive,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “APA commends Representative Trone for introducing this legislation, which acknowledges the role that psychological science plays in both student learning and mental health. By providing training for educators and other school staff on evidence-based, trauma-informed practices, the bill would ensure that the psychological well-being of students is the responsibility of the entire school community. This will be even more necessary as students return to classrooms following a year of stress, uncertainty and social isolation.”

“This bill represents an excellent opportunity to support evidence-based, systemic SEL in support of positive outcomes for all children and communities. CASEL believes SEL can support safe and healthy learning environments.” – Collaboration for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

“The American Educational Research Association SEL Special Interest Group is proud to endorse the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Bill. This proposed legislation speaks directly to the critical areas of need in our nation’s school communities. In the absence of systematic and sustainable supports for schools, the wildly diverse and deeply tragic lived experiences of the pandemic and losses within- loss of life, security, routine, and community- can continue to exacerbate inequities and disrupt teaching, learning and thriving when all was already interrupted. At the AERA SEL SIG we are hopeful that the recommendations for sustainable investments in the social and emotional health and wellness of students and their teachers and families will provide the necessary prioritization of training, support staff, and resources to equitably support school community thriving hereafter.” –  American Educational Research Association. 

To view the bill text, click here.

To view a summary of the bill, click here.

Congressman David Trone was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018 to serve the 6th District of Maryland, which includes all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Trone serves on the Appropriations, Veterans’ Affairs, and Joint Economic Committees in the 117th Congress and previously served on the Education and Labor and Foreign Affairs Committees. In Congress, Trone is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders, including the mental health and addiction crises, criminal justice reform, and funding for medical research.