Press Release

Welch Joins ‘Pride in Mental Health Act’ to Support LGBTQ+ Youth 

Mar 19, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.)—the first Black and openly LGBTQ+ senator to serve in the Senate—and U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), led Senate colleagues in introducing the Pride in Mental Health Act, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), which would strengthen mental health and crisis intervention resources for at-risk LGBTQ+ youth.  

“Accessing mental health care and support has become increasingly difficult in nearly every state in the country,” said Senator Butler. “Barriers get even more difficult if you are a young person who lacks a supportive community or is fearful of being outed, harassed, or threatened. I am introducing the Pride in Mental Health Act to help equip LGBTQ+ youth with the resources to get the affirming and often life-saving care they need.” 

“Right now, there’s a serious lack of resources for young people seeking support with mental health challenges, especially among LGBTQ+ youth. We see it across the country–in Vermont, nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted to receive mental health care in recent years couldn’t get the care they needed. We have to do better,” said Senator Welch. “The Pride in Mental Health Act works to break down barriers to improve mental health support systems for our LGBTQ+ children and teens to ensure they get the care they need and deserve.” 

“Mental health care is health care. And for some LGBTQ+ youth, receiving access to the mental health care they need can mean the difference between living in safety and dignity, and suffering alone through discrimination, bullying, and even violence,” said Senator Smith. “The data shows what many parents and educators see every day—an epidemic of students in classrooms dealing with anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions, with nowhere to turn. Meeting LGBTQ+ students where they already are—in school—helps us break down the stigma they might face and get kids the health care they need.” 

LGBTQ+ youth experience disproportionate rates of mental health challenges. A 2023 study found that 54 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of depression, while only 35 % of heterosexual youth reported similar feelings. LGBTQ+ high school students are also four times more likely to attempt suicide. These discrepancies can be linked to discrimination and lack of a supportive community in schools or at home. LGBTQ+ youth who found their school or home to be LGBTQ+ affirming reported significantly lower rates of suicide attempts. 

Rates of these challenges have consistently risen over time and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 56% of LGBTQ+ youth have not been able to get the mental health care that they want. Fewer than 1 in 3 mental health facilities in the United States provide LGBTQ+ services for adolescents. And 15% of LGBTQ+ youth even report being threatened with or subjected to conversion therapy. The Pride in Mental Health Act works to close LGBTQ+ mental health information gaps and improve physical and mental health in at-risk youth. 

The Pride in Mental Health Act would: 

  • Award grants for Mental Health Services to eligible entities to assess and improve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, nonbinary, intersex, and Two Spirit youth mental health and substance use outcomes. 
  • Require eligible entities to utilize funds to: 
  • Provide cultural competency training for caregivers. 
  • Develop and disseminate behavioral health and crisis intervention resources to improve LGBTQ+ youth mental health and substance use outcomes. 
  • Collect data with respect to the behavioral health of LGBTQ+ youth. 
  • Issue school bullying prevention guidelines with respect to LGBTQ+ youth. 
  • Integrate behavioral health services for LGBTQ+ youth in school systems. 
  • Prohibit funds to be used for conversion therapy, efforts to assist or facilitate conversion therapy, and directing individuals to conversion therapy. 
  • Direct the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to review and update resources listed on their website that pertain to LGBTQ+ communities. 
  • Commission a report on the mental health outcomes and care of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care and other federal social services programs. 

“LQBTQ+ youth across the country face disproportionate mental health challenges in the face of political attacks and hostile school environments,” said Senator Padilla. “No one should have to feel scared to ask for help—that’s why I’m working alongside Senator Butler to strengthen mental health support and resources for LGBTQ+ youth in need. As a co-founder of the Senate Mental Health Caucus, I will keep fighting to eliminate barriers to accessing mental health care.” 

“All kids deserve to have the tools they need to live safe, healthy lives – and that of course includes LGBTQ+ kids,” said Senator Baldwin. “We need to ensure that our kids, parents, and communities have access to high-quality mental health support to help those in crisis, including those LGBTQ+ youth who are disproportionately facing mental health challenges. I am proud to support this legislation to turn the tide on the mental health crisis and reach the children who need our help.” 

The Pride in Mental Health Act is a crucial step towards dismantling barriers to mental health care, and providing inclusive and affirming support for LGBTQ+ youth,” said Senator Booker. “Despite the significant strides we have made in advancing LGBTQ+ rights, accessing quality care and resources tailored to their unique needs remains a challenge for LGBTQ+ youth in this country. We must work tirelessly to create a future where LGBTQ+ youth feel supported, valued, and empowered to live authentically without fear.” 

“All kids deserve access to good quality mental health care, but it’s still way too common for some — particularly our most vulnerable — to struggle to find good care,” said Senator Jeff Merkley. The Pride in Mental Health Act is an essential step toward increasing support and improving access to services for America’s LGBTQ+ youth. It’s time to pass this bill and my Equality Act to build a more just future for all children and teens.” 

Youth here in Kansas and across the country continue to struggle with mental health challenges, but we are failing many of our most vulnerable children on this issue,” said Rep. Davids. “Our Pride in Mental Health Act takes a comprehensive and data-driven approach to tackling the mental health crisis among youth in the LGBTQ+ community. To put it simply, by increasing access to mental health supports for our children and teens, we are saving lives. I’m grateful to have Senators Butler and Smith as partners in this mission.” 

The Pride in Mental Health Act is led in the House of Representatives by Sharice Davids (D-KS-3) Eric Sorensen (D-IL-17), and Ritchie Torres (D-NY-15), along with 163 other House members. 

The Pride in Mental Health Act is endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association (NEA), National Center for Transgender Equality, Seattle Indian Health Board, PFLAG National, The Trevor Project, American Psychological Association, Whitman-Walker Institute, InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Mental Health America, and Center for Law and Social Policy.