The MINDS Act: Supporting Children Struggling with Mental Health

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RAYMOND, Maine — On June 17, 2021, Sen. Robert Casey proposed Bill S.2105. The bill is dubbed the Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act. If passed, it will create a new position within the United States government. The new position will be responsible for building support structures and providing psychotherapists to assist families and children struggling with mental health issues in nations where United States foreign assistance programs operate. Programs, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), would receive the proper funding to build teams of mental health professionals to support poverty-stricken families and children struggling with mental health.

How Children In Poverty Struggle With Mental Health Issues

Children living in poverty often struggle with depression, anxiety and behavioral issues. Age and poverty levels are statistically proven to impact a child’s likelihood of receiving treatment. Poverty affects children and their developing brains deeply. Children living beneath the poverty line often experience more stress, trauma and violence than children living above the poverty line. This trauma can stem from experiencing food insecurity and the effects of unsafe housing along with many other factors.

The ability to problem-solve is lower in those who grew up in poverty while the willingness to give up in social settings, at work or in school environments is higher. Growing up poor has been linked to the development of depression and almost constant anxiety in many adults. The MINDS Act would allow USAID to provide needed therapies and services.

The MINDS Act

The MINDS Act outlines the services the United States government is to implement to positively impact the mental health of children and families in poverty. Section 3 – subsection f of the bill outlines the role of a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordinator (MHPSC) that the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of State would appoint. The MHPSC would be responsible for organizing the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Working Group (MHPSWG) and overseeing the management of children’s mental health treatment in foreign assistance programs.

The MHPSWG will consist of team members from each USAID office and members of the State Department. The MHPSC would organize the efforts of the MHPSWG and integrate its relief efforts into U.S. foreign assistance programming. The MHPSC would be responsible for developing the best practices and support programming that the MHPSWG would provide.

Allocating Funds

The MINDS Act also outlines the developing positions, responsibilities and the formula for deciding the correct amount of funding for each fiscal year to support the positions responsible for treating children struggling with mental health issues. The MINDS Act describes the steps necessary to ensure the proper funding if the bill passes.

The newly appointed MHPSC, USAID Administrator and the Secretary of State would present the necessary funding data from USAID to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee. The committee would then explore what funding is essential to implement the programs to support the treatment of children struggling with mental health issues.

Countries Where the Bill Can Provide Funds and Aid

USAID is the United States’ most extensive foreign assistance program. It is a bipartisan, federal program that provides foreign assistance and aid to United States ally nations by helping to improve all facets of life. USAID typically operates in countries devastated by climate change, the lack of water sanitation, inadequate agricultural technology, food insecurity and much more.

Many of the countries struggling with these issues have high child poverty rates. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), excluding the United States, the four countries with the highest child poverty rates are Chile, Israel, Mexico and Spain. USAID operates in each of those nations. Through USAID, the MINDS Act would support children struggling with mental health issues in those countries.

The bill’s passing could grant access to resources for any United States ally to provide families or children struggling with mental health the treatment they need. Furthermore, no one nation would be the sole recipient of the funds. Each country receiving USAID support would receive this support based on their level of need.

How S.2105 Helps

A suitable form of therapy can help children struggling with mental health issues. The problem is that finding the most beneficial treatment to the individual is time-consuming and, by most standards, expensive. The bill would allow U.S allies access to U.S-approved psychotherapy and psychotherapists.

The Center for Disease Control and other world health organizations recommend therapy for family members and children struggling with mental health issues. Therapy can help a child build a healthy transition to adulthood and increase a child’s chances of achieving stability in childhood and beyond. Proper therapy and treatment improve a person’s likelihood of keeping a job in adulthood and escaping poverty.

The passing of the MINDS Act could support the children struggling with mental health issues while living in poverty in U.S.-allied countries. It would begin to break a cycle of childhood poverty.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

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