The holiday season is an important time for both reflection and appreciation. It’s easy to be cynical in today’s climate: Everything from the NFL to Dr. Seuss seems to be politicized. But there is good bipartisan work being done in Congress. And while I may not turn heads on cable primetime, I’m grateful for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who continue this quiet but critical work.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthcare space, and particularly in mental health.
Our country was in a mental health crisis before the COVID-19 outbreak: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are living with a mental health condition, and suicide was the second leading cause of death among youth in 2019.
Tragically, the pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns only exacerbated the problem. In the first year of the pandemic alone, anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25% worldwide. This was a serious wake-up call for everyone: we needed to step up mental health services and support. I’m very proud to say that Congress, on a bipartisan basis, did exactly that.
Some of my most effective and rewarding work has come during my efforts to prioritize mental health. In 2020, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, and I introduced the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. The bill was enacted that year and designated 988 as the universal telephone number for national suicide prevention and mental health hotline.
Last summer, after two years of preparation, recruitment and training, the number 988 officially launched on all devices in the United States. Our mission was to create a new resource for the growing number of people in mental health crises to get the help they need. And we are very proud to report that after the official launch of the three-digit number, data shows that it may have saved more than 150,000 lives in its first month.
I am also grateful for my position on the House Appropriations Committee, a crucial committee that no member from Utah sat on, until my appointment, in more than 40 years. This position allows me to help secure mental health funding for our veterans, improve mental health resources in our schools, and much more. But we are still in the midst of a national mental health crisis, and there is still a lot of work to be done.
For example, it recently came to my attention that so-called “online suicide assistance forums” are attracting millions of viewers per month. The New York Times investigated a ‘popular’ self-harm website that provides explicit information and instructions for ending one’s life. Instead of offering help, this site allows those experiencing mental health crises to post and discuss their plans and offer suicide assistance. Investigators were able to trace more than 45 suicides to this self-harm site.
Everyone can agree: the last thing we need right now are online forums operating in the shadow of the Internet that actively encourage and even help people to die by suicide.
So Reps. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., Mike Carey, R-Ohio, Katie Porter, D-Calif., and I introduced the Stop Law Online Suicide Assistance Forums. This bipartisan bill will make it a felony for anyone who uses online forums to aid another person’s suicide attempt, and will give the DOJ additional authority to pursue cases against suicide assistance forums.
This type of legislation may not be the “hot topic” around the table, but it is absolutely crucial. And the process of introducing this bill is important, too: a problem was identified (big tech companies must be held accountable for failing to stop users from encouraging self-harm) and my fellow Democrats and I quickly drafted a solution.
The fight is far from over, and there are many other problem areas that demand more bipartisanship and creative solutions. But here’s the good news: Americans have a proud history of coming together.
So when you’re sitting around the table with friends and family this holiday season, I would first recommend avoid talking about politics. But if you can’t, and I have a feeling most of us will try and fail, please remind everyone of the humble but critical work still being done. We have a long way to go, but I am grateful for the opportunity to do the work of the people in the greatest nation in the world.
God bless America. And from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.