Bipartisan brain health/mental health checkup legislation introduced by Miller

MT. LEBANON, May 13 – On the heels of the fifth student suicide in the past six years in a nearby school district, state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, has introduced legislation that would require a mental health – or brain health – check-up that would at minimum include a depression screening for each student in Pennsylvania by age 14.

"We know that many people who develop a mental health issue go untreated, and this lack of treatment can have lifelong repercussions," Miller said. "Knowing this, we need to recognize that mental health is arguably even more important than physical health and we need to improve our early diagnosis capabilities to get those who need treatment the help they need to improve their quality of life." 

Miller’s bill, which is being cosponsored by Rep. Judy Ward, R-Blair, was supported at a news conference today by mental health advocates, including Julianne Washington, advocacy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwestern Pennsylvania.

"Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 12 through 18, and research has shown that 90 percent of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental health condition," Washington said. "An initiative to require mental health screening at this crucial age is a needed step to save the lives of youth living with a mental illness."

According to data compiled by NAMI, 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 live with a brain health condition that can drastically affect their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Lack of proper diagnosis and treatment can result in serious risk-taking behaviors such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, self-medication, harm to oneself – or, in very rare cases – harm to others. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. 

At a recent meeting of the House Human Services Committee, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, author of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, spoke in favor of the measure, telling Miller: "It’s essential - why wouldn’t we check mental health? It’s essential to learning. There’s no way to get education in this country if the kids can’t pay attention because nobody’s bothering to screen them for these things. I think you are on the cutting edge, and I’m glad you’re leading the way in Pennsylvania."

Miller’s legislation would add a brain health/mental health screening for each student no later than age 14 to the list of medical requirements students already partake in, such as vision tests, hearing exams, scoliosis screenings and immunizations. Parents would have the right to opt their children out of the screening. Due to changes made by the Affordable Care Act, all insurance policies must cover such screenings.

"We have done a good job improving futures for children with developmental disabilities because of our investments in early intervention programs," Miller said. "We need to do the same for brain health. We need proactive health parity policies and I think this bill can help improve lives."