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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Senators Domenici & Kennedy Introduce Child Suicide And Violence Research Bill- Senate Cosponsors Needed


Contact:
Chris Marshall
703-524-7600
For Immediate Release
6 Aug 99

On August 5, Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S 1555, the "Public Health Response to Youth Suicide and Violence Act of 1999." This bill represents an important new effort to significantly enhance clinical research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on severe mental illness in children and adolescents, with a specific focus on violence and suicide. NAMI worked closely with both senators on this important legislation in recent weeks and will be pushing hard for its passage in 1999.

ACTION REQUESTED

At the direction of both senators, NAMI has been asked to assist in building bipartisan support for the bill and to get as many cosponsors as possible when the Senate returns from its month-long August recess. All NAMI advocates are therefore strongly encouraged to contact their senators and urge them to cosponsor S 1555. All senators can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the NAMI website at http://www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress".

Included below is a sample letter to send to your senators, a summary of S 1555 and some brief "talking points" for NAMI advocates to use in contacting Senate offices. As always, use of personal and family stories about childhood and adolescent serious mental illness significantly enhance direct advocacy with congressional offices.

SAMPLE LETTER TO YOUR U.S. SENATOR

Dear Senator,

I am writing to urge you to cosponsor S 1555, the "Public Health Response to Youth Suicide and Violence Act of 1999", introduced on August 5, by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). This bill represents an important new effort to significantly enhance clinical research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on severe mental illness in children and adolescents, with a specific focus on violence and suicide.

Over the last several decades, the suicide rate in young people has increased dramatically. In 1996, suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds-12.2 of every 100,000 persons-following unintentional injuries and homicide. Suicide was the 4th leading cause in 10 to 14 year olds, with 298 deaths among 18,949,000 children in this age group. For adolescents aged 15 to 19, there were 1,817 deaths among 18,644,000 adolescents. Scientific research has found that there are an estimated 8 to 25 suicides to 1 completion, and the strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth are depression and alcohol or drug use.

I urge you to cosponsor S 1555 -- the "Public Health Response to Youth Suicide and Violence Act". Congress should make every effort to provide sufficient funds for the research necessary to enable an effective public health approach to the problems of youth suicide and violence. Congress needs to give NIMH the tools to develop ways to recognize and intervene early and effectively with children and adolescents who suffer depression or other mental illnesses, so as to avoid the tragedy of suicide and violence, as well as long-term serious illness. Thank you...

Back ground on S 1555 -- the Public Health Response to Youth Suicide and Violence Act

Purpose -- To provide sufficient funds for the research necessary to enable an effective public health approach to the problems of youth suicide and violence, and to develop ways to recognize and intervene early and effectively with children and adolescents who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, so as to avoid the tragedy of suicide and violence, as well as long-term serious illness.

S 1555 authorizes $200 million per year over the next 5 years and requires NIMH to:

1) expand and intensify research aimed at better understanding the underlying developmental and other causes of mental disorders combined with risk factors that may lead to youth suicide and violence,

2) develop investigators who are trained in the area of childhood mental disorders and who understand the impact of depression and other illnesses and factors on the developing brain, in order to strengthen the clinical research infrastructure necessary to support additional research and clinical trials targeted towards understanding serious mental disorders, including depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and bipolar disorder, linked with suicide and violence in children and adolescents and in developing medications, psychotherapy, and support for children and adolescents,

3) establish and support additional multi-site clinical trials to establish safe and effective acute and long-term preventive measures or treatments for mental illnesses in children, including depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with a focus on children younger than 12 years of age,

4) encourage research to clarify the first emergence of mental illnesses in children, including serious mood disorders and schizophrenia and foster effective early treatments for such illnesses and disorders and the prevention of suicide and violence in children and adolescents,

5) encourage services research aimed at better understanding the impact of mental disorders on children, including the relationship with other risk factors leading to suicide and violence, on their families, on the health care system, and on schools as well as services research aimed at improving care--provider and educator knowledge of mental disorders and suicide risk in children,

6) collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and carry out additional activities to better understand the scope and effect of childhood mental disorders, including epidemiological monitoring and surveillance of childhood mental illness, suicide and incidence of violence and establish a system to provide technical assistance to schools and communities to provide public health information and best practices to enable such schools and communities to handle high-risk youth, and

7) examine the feasibility of public health programs combining individual, family, and community level interventions to address suicide and violence and identify related best practices.

Important Facts to Remember:

1) Over the last several decades, the suicide rate in young people has increased dramatically. In 1996, suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds-12.2 of every 100,000 persons-following unintentional injuries and homicide. Suicide was the 4th leading cause in 10 to 14 year olds, with 298 deaths among 18,949,000 children in this age group. For adolescents aged 15 to 19, there were 1,817 deaths among 18,644,000 adolescents. Scientific research has found that there are an estimated 8 to 25 suicides to 1 completion, and the strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth are depression and alcohol or drug use.

2) Research has shown that 90 percent of people who kill themselves have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. In addition, research has shown that alterations in neurotransmitters such as serotonin are associated with the risk for suicide. Diminished levels have been found in patients with depression, impulsive disorders, a history of violent suicide attempts, and also in the postmortem brain of suicide victims. Adverse life events in combination with other strong risk factors, such as depression, may lead to suicide. However, suicide and suicidal behavior are not normal responses to stresses experienced by most people.

3) There is inadequate data concerning the prevalence of serious mental illness in children and adolescents and the link of these illnesses to suicide or violence directed toward others. Best estimates suggest that about 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment, but fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives treatment.

4) A public health model should seek to ascertain ways to identify children and adolescents who are depressed or suffering from other serious mental disorders that might result in violent behavior against themselves or others, as well as long-term illness, and to intervene before that occurs.

5) Not enough is known about serious mental disorders in adolescents and children, devastating illnesses which often lead to school failure, suicide, and violence. A primary reason for this is the lack of trained scientific investigators in this area of research. It is critical that increased efforts be made to strengthen the scientific expertise and capability in the area of child mental disorders.

6) There is inadequate knowledge about the serious mental disorders of childhood and adolescents, including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and other disorders that have risk factors of suicide and violence. There is also inadequate knowledge about the proper role of medications and psychotherapies for children at risk and children already suffering from a mental illness. Children who go untreated not only suffer, cannot learn, and may not form healthy relationships with peers or family, but also face an increased likelihood of incarceration rather than moving toward a productive and quality life.

7) Families are devastated by the impact of not only a mental illness in a child or adolescent, but also because of the prevailing stigma and discrimination against these disorders and the lack of optimal research-based treatment and services.

8) A recent NAMI report, entitled "Families on the Brink," revealed that 56 percent of surveyed parents reported that their primary care physicians did not recognize their child's serious mental illnesses and that many professionals involved in the evaluation, treatment, and medication management of their children were misinformed or lacked sufficient expertise to understand their child's disorder or treatment needs. Fifty percent of surveyed parents with a child suffering from a serious mental disorder believe their child would become violent without appropriate treatment and services.

9) Families coping with the pain of a child with a mental illness are in crucial need of support as they struggle to help their children. Instead nearly one-fourth of parents surveyed in the NAMI study report being forced to give up custody of their children in order to get the vital treatment and services they need so desperately.

 

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