Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a call to action. The devastating impacts of COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated another pandemic: a global mental health crisis.

General Guterres called on countries to work together not merely to help stop the virus, but to respond to the resulting spike in mental health needs in communities around the world.

I introduced the Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings Act—or the MINDS Act — to answer that call.

The MINDS Act, which was introduced in the House and Senate, with bipartisan support, requires those who administer U.S. foreign assistance to work together to integrate mental health support across all programs — with a specific focus on populations most at risk. It will help establish a cohesive, U.S. government-wide strategy to address global mental health needs, and in doing so, advance American interests and ideals.

Even before COVID-19, the mental health needs of the global community were dire. One billion individuals experienced a mental health or substance use disorder, including 14 percent of children and adolescents. Suicide took a life every forty seconds and was a leading cause of death for youth globally.

Many risk factors contribute to mental illness, including poverty, hunger, chronic disease, stress, and trauma. We are just now beginning to see how the pandemic compounded these risk factors, creating new mental health challenges both at home and in the communities we assist around the world.

In my home in South Florida, drug overdose deaths spiked during the pandemic. Our kids’ deteriorating mental health is prompting urgent initiatives like Boca Raton Community High School’s “Motivational Mondays.” And for Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors, the trauma of enduring one of the deadliest school shootings in our nation’s history has been compounded by additional isolation and disruption of their education.

At home and abroad, every empty chair at the table, shuttered business, and missed milestone left less visible, but no less devastating, impacts.

School closures affecting a billion and a half children worldwide increased stress on working parents and placed children at higher risk of exposure to household violence, neglect, and hunger.

Job losses increased families’ vulnerability to poverty. Reports of gender-based violence increased. On top of this was the stress of prolonged isolation and fear of becoming ill, and the impacts on those who lost loved ones or were sick themselves with COVID-19.

At the epicenter of the global mental health crisis are those already most at risk, especially those enduring conflicts, violence, and societal upheaval. These situations have become more precarious during the pandemic, from Yemeni families facing famine and cholera, to Syrian children enduring war for their entire lives, to millions of refugees fleeing for their safety.

The MINDS Act is the first ever legislation to specifically consider mental health in American foreign assistance. Our nation spends less than one percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, and an even smaller fraction on mental health assistance. Each dollar lays the groundwork for a global community that is safer and more secure for the next generation — one less susceptible to emotional trauma, global pandemics, famine, war, and other challenges that fuel extremism and instability.

Congress has an opportunity, and an obligation, to address our global community’s mental health needs in this challenging time. We need to give our foreign aid apparatus — from policy administrators in D.C. to local partners on the ground — the tools they need to tackle this crisis.

This new focus on mental health will not only strengthen communities and families around the world but will enhance our national security and global stability. We need to take action, and we need to do it now.

Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchIncorporating mental health support into global assistance programs Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers Sanders reaffirms support for Turner in Ohio amid Democratic rift MORE is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 22nd District in South Florida. He is the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.

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