BOSTON – A student-inspired proposal filed by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) to establish a student stakeholder advisory committee on mental health has been signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.
A revised version of Representative Jones’ policy initiative was included in a comprehensive mental health access bill that was enacted by the House and Senate on August 1, the last day of formal legislative sessions for the year. Senate Bill 3097, An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health (also known as the ABC Act), was signed by Governor Baker on August 10.
Representative Jones first developed the idea for a student-centered advisory board after meeting with a group of sophomores from Lynnfield High School earlier this year. After brainstorming ideas with the students, he drafted and filed language creating the board, which was adopted as an amendment to an earlier House version of the ABC Act that was engrossed on June 16.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that mental health issues are a growing problem for adolescents. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019, “more than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009.” The report also noted that “In 2019, approximately 1 in 6 youth reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% increase since 2009.”
“Given these alarming trends, which have likely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that Massachusetts do everything it can to ensure that students and their families have access to a wide range of comprehensive mental health programs and services,” said Representative Jones. “Establishing an advisory committee with student representation will go a long way towards achieving this goal and making sure students have somewhere to turn if they or someone they know needs help.”
Under the ABC Act, the student stakeholder advisory committee will be convened by a newly-created Office of Behavioral Health Promotion (OBHP) within the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). Representative Jones’ original proposal called for the establishment of a standing 15-member advisory commission, to be chaired by the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and to include among its members students, representatives from several statewide mental health organizations, a representative from the Parent Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and a licensed psychiatrist specializing in adolescent mental health care. The ABC Act does not specify the make-up of the advisory committee but requires that at least 1/3 of its members be secondary school students.
Working in collaboration with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the advisory committee will help to develop and implement school-based programs that promote student mental health and well-being, including but not limited to:
- addressing and eliminating the stigma associated with mental health conditions and substance use disorder;
- recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions;
- addressing cyberbullying;
- preventing and responding to student suicide and suicidal ideation, including actions involving self-harm;
- promoting positive coping behaviors and helping students avoid behaviors that can cause harm to students; and
- promoting mental health treatment and recovery
The student stakeholder advisory committee will be responsible for submitting an annual report by June 30 to the OBHP detailing its findings and recommendations for any legislative or regulatory changes that may be needed.
“Having direct student input on the advisory committee is critical to making sure the state is responding effectively to the mental health needs of our youth,” said Representative Jones. “By working closely with DESE to address these needs, the advisory committee will help to ensure that all students can easily access services that are essential to their mental health and well-being.”