Minnesota Democrat Sen. Tina Smith discussed her trials with depression Wednesday on the Senate floor, saying that she hoped to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Smith said that, in her second year of college, her roommate noticed that she had not been herself for a long time and suggested she go to the school’s mental health center to speak with a professional.
Counseling was completely foreign to Smith, and she resisted at first. “It was really hard making that phone call, the walk over to the counselor’s office, sitting in the waiting room. I didn’t know what to expect. And to be honest, I was embarrassed,” Smith said. She spoke with a counselor in college, and again, she said, in her early 30s.
At both times she felt relief as well as gratitude for mental health treatment resources and insurance. She noted that neither are guaranteed for people struggling with mental illness, and called on her colleagues to work to provide treatment resources in schools and underserved communities, especially in rural areas.
“The 100 of us here in the Senate have a responsibility to make sure that those resources are available to everyone,” Smith said. “We can’t afford to leave holes in the net we build to catch people when they fall.” She described the dearth of mental health resources in schools in her own state, in which one school district only has one social worker.
Teachers told her causes of mental illness in their students range from dealing with social pressure to losing a loved one to opioid overdose. “They tell me this is what the crisis looks like on the ground level,” Smith said. She said that a St. Paul principal said that it was “regular phenomenon” for an ambulance pulling up to the school because a student had a mental breakdown.
He told her that has happened six times already this year. Smith said she would reintroduce the Mental Health Services for Students Act Wednesday to create a grant program for school districts to expand mental healthcare access. Students who experience depression or anxiety at less severe levels still have to suffer long wait times to access treatment, if their communities offer treatment at all.
In 2017, over 17 million U.S. adults and 3 million adolescents suffered from depression, one of the most common mental illnesses in the country. Smith said she spoke with her counselor in college for months, leaving each appointment feeling a bit better. She knew her depression would not go away instantly, though, because “that’s not how mental illness works.
.” She says it is a continuum and with each therapy session, the patient gets closer to “the healthy end” of the continuum. ..