Exclusive: Obama budget includes $235 million in new mental health spending

April 9, 2013

President Obama's budget proposal will include $235 million in funding for new mental health programs, focused initiatives to help schools detect early warning signs and train thousands of new mental health professionals.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

These proposed new commitments come after the Newtown, Conn. shootings increased interest in the relationship between gun violence and mental health.

"We've never seen this kind of sustained interest before," said an administration official who asked for anonymity to discuss funding that has not been publicly announced. "The administration is very united about addressing this issue."

This is the first White House budget to include these new programs, which were first outlined in a January report on administration strategies to reduce gun violence.

The new budget plan will propose $130 million for programs that train teachers and other adults to help recognize early signs of mental illness, referring them to help when they detect such warnings. That includes $55 million for a new program called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education). That will give states and local school districts grants to administer such programs, while also collecting data on how well they work.

Another $50 million in funds would go toward training masters-level mental health specialists such as psychologists, nurses and counselors who work in schools. The idea is to expand the mental health workforce to prepare for the demands of millions of Americans who will gain health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

"We can't take 12 years training doctors and post-docs to meet the need in 2014," the administration official said. "We're taking a very promising and practical approach."

Another $25 million would be put towards helping schools, where violence is pervasive, to address the trauma experienced by children and test violence prevention strategies.

Obama touched briefly on the importance of expanding mental health services in a Monday night speech on gun violence, at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

"We have to tell Congress it’s time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it’s too late," he said.

That first part is an important point: While the Obama administration will include these new funds in its budget, it's still up to Congress to decide whether it would approve this additional funding.

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Ezra Klein · April 9, 2013