HEAL Act Introduced to Expand Mental Health Resources for Students Affected by School Shootings

Michigan Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced the introduction of a legislation to expand federal mental health resources to support students in the aftermath of violent and traumatic events.

The Help Education After Loss (HEAL) Act would strengthen support for the federal government for schools across the country, allowing schools affected by shootings to receive federal grants to enable them to hire additional school-based mental health providers including counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Officials say the bill would also direct the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a joint study evaluating how violent and traumatic events can affect students’ mental health, and the potential risk they face for developing chronic psychiatric disorders.

Moreover, the legislation would require the Department of Education and HHS to develop best practices for schools that are returning to learning after experiencing a crisis.

“No student should have to live through the fear, pain and grief caused by gun violence in schools – let alone struggle with the mental health effects in the aftermath of school shootings. Sadly, there continue to be school shootings, and it’s clear that more can be done to provide federal resources to these schools. We must ensure that students, school staff, and families in Michigan and communities across the country affected by tragedy have the support they need when they are experiencing this unimaginable trauma,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense bill would help expand needed mental health resources at schools.”

“The mental needs of adults and children who have experienced trauma from violence are unique and urgent. The community of Oxford experienced this kind of trauma when the High School community was shattered by unspeakable violence,” stated Senator Stabenow. “This bill will ensure that students in Oxford and others schools across our country receive the critical services they need.”

“Gun violence in schools is an unacceptable, preventable tragedy. Far too many communities, including our neighbors in Oxford, know the unimaginable pain of school shootings, and we all have to act to ensure that school is a safe place where kids can learn and teachers and staff can stay focused on empowering their students. As a parent, I am grateful to Michigan’s own Senators Peters and Stabenow for introducing this bill to help schools hire more on-campus mental health professionals, research the mental health impact of gun violence, and keep all of our children safe,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “This bill would ensure children can get the mental health support they need at school.”

Studies show that kids exposed to violence, injury or other traumatic events are at risk for developing traumatic stress reactions.

According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 28% of individuals who have witnessed a mass shooting develop PTSD, and one-third develop acute stress disorder.

Officials say this type of impairment can have lasting effects on academic achievement, as well as the social and emotional growth of impacted students.

Additionally, research has shown that kids with access to mental health services in school are ten times more likely to seek care for mental health or substance abuse than those without access.

However, the Education Trust says nearly one in five students do not have access to a counselor in their school, and many have only limited access to other school support staff such as school psychologists or social workers.