Two members of Congress launched a task force that aims to prevent suicide and boost mental health services.
U.S. Rep. John Katko partnered with fellow Congressman Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, to form the new House Suicide Prevention Task Force. Friday's announcement came during National Suicide Prevention Week. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
The task force will be a branch of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus chaired by U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, a California Democrat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in the U.S. increased 24 percent from 1999 through 2014. The spike impacted men and women and all ages from 10 to 74.
Katko, R-Camillus, noted that suicide has affected too many families across the country, including some in his district.
"It is clear there is a vital need to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare," he said. "I'm proud to join together with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to launch this task force so that we can work to combat the prevalence of suicide and to provide greater support for those suffering with mental health issues."
Katko's focus on mental health services and suicide prevention dates back to his 2014 congressional campaign. As a challenger, he rolled out a plan to strengthen mental health treatment options in central New York.
After being sworn in as the region's congressman in 2015, he joined with state Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli to launch a task force with a focus on youth mental health services.
As co-chair of the task force, one of Katko's main goals was to establish a pediatric mental health care facility in the Syracuse area.
Earlier this year, Katko's mental health task force released its recommendations. The group suggested streamlining data collection on mental illnesses, improving the administration of mental health care and increasing access to services.
In June, Katko and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, introduced legislation to add mental health counselors and relationship therapists to Medicare's list of eligible service providers.
Katko's work on mental health issues and suicide prevention in Congress has been recognized by leading advocacy groups. In 2016, he received the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Allies in Action award.
The latest Katko-led initiative — the panel with Beyer — received the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's endorsement.
"By forming a task force, Representatives Beyer, Katko and Napolitano are encouraging other members of Congress to recognize the importance of this issue," said Robert Gebbia, the foundation's CEO. "Their dedication and time spent on this will help save lives. We encourage others on Capitol Hill to join them."