Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Wants Mental Health Included in Next Coronavirus Bill

May 4, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan said today Congress should include funding for mental health services in the next coronavirus relief bill as phone calls to crisis hotlines surge during the pandemic.

"In addition to the physical and economic toll of the disease, millions of Americans are struggling with devastating mental health issues including depression, social isolation and loneliness," Buchanan said, noting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. "We need to make sure Congress considers this in debating the next coronavirus relief package."

Specifically, Buchanan said Congress should pass legislation he has co-sponsored establishing a universal telephone hotline (9-8-8) to help people experiencing a mental health crisis. The federal Department of Health and Human Services reports that its “Disaster Distress Helpline” saw an 891 percent increase in March compared with March 2019. 

Congressional leaders are developing a new coronavirus bill expected to be debated later this month.

“Loneliness is already one of the biggest threats to mental health, which is even more concerning during these difficult and uncertain times of social distancing and potential isolation," Buchanan said. "By making it easier to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and devoting resources towards these crisis centers, we can have an immediate impact in helping those in mental health crisis.”

 Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are in lockdown, meaning family members and others are prevented from visiting.

Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act which authorizes states to collect a small fee to fund the operation of local crisis call centers across the country. The new dialing code will replace the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). The FCC issued a report finding that a three-digit number dedicated to suicide prevention would make it easier for Americans in need to connect with lifesaving resources.

Sarah Lowe, a psychologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health, called the coronavirus is a “slow-motion disaster” and said “we know from previous disasters that long-term financial strain tends to be associated with depression and PTSD.” According to one survey, a majority of Americans say that the coronavirus has already affected their mental health.

Buchanan noted that dozens of studies have linked social isolation and loneliness to a variety of mental and physical health problems. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming 47,000 lives annually. Alarmingly, suicide attempts have skyrocketed among children in recent years, according to federal officials. 

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act is endorsed by organizations including the American Legion and Centerstone, a leading mental health facility in Bradenton.  

Buchanan has previously called for greater funding to help veterans cope with the mental health issues that lead so many to take their own lives. Buchanan also introduced the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans. The Congressman has also demanded answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs after it was revealed that the VA failed to spend millions of dollars allocated for suicide prevention efforts. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and the Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HELLO to 741741. Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.