Monday, June 7, 2021

APA Honors Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman for Her Work to Improve Mental Health Care

APA has selected Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) as this year’s winner of its Jacob K. Javits Award for Public Service for her commitment and dedication to increase patient access to mental health and substance use disorder services.

The Javits Award recognizes a federal and/or state public servant who has made outstanding contributions to the mental health community. It honors the legacy of Sen. Jacob K. Javits of New York, who achieved many successes on behalf of those with mental illness. The award was presented this past weekend during APA’s online federal advocacy conference.

“Rep. Watson Coleman’s leadership is critical to our nation’s mental health,” said APA President Vivian Pender, M.D., in an APA news release. “Her focus on health equities goes beyond simply funding the services that are needed, but to a wider lens of understanding how social determinants are impacting the mental health of diverse communities around the nation.”

In 2018, Watson Coleman convened a congressional hearing to discuss suicides among Black youth after data revealed that their suicide death rate was increasing faster than in other racial/ethnic groups. The following year, Watson Coleman helped to establish the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health. The task force created a work group of Black mental health experts and advocates to identify the causes driving this crisis and possible solutions (past APA President Altha Stewart, M.D., was a member of this work group). In December 2019, the task force released a comprehensive report titled “Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America.” In conjunction with the release of the report, Watson Coleman introduced the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 (HR 5469), a bill aimed at addressing disparities in access, care, and study of mental health issues among people of color. The bill passed the House but did not get a vote in the Senate. This past March, Watson Coleman and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) reintroduced the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act (HR 1475). This bill is strongly supported by APA.

Watson Coleman, who is serving her fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress. Before her election to the House, Watson Coleman served eight consecutive terms in the New Jersey General Assembly, where she became the first Black woman to serve as majority leader and chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. She is also the first Black woman to win the Javits Award.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the Javits Award. I am also grateful to the APA for their efforts in fighting youth suicide,” Watson Coleman said. “When I formed the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, I immediately recognized the seriousness of the work we were doing. … I was also humbled by the outpouring of support and resources by the mental health community including organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and recognize that the work we’ve accomplished so far would not have been possible without their efforts.”

“I’m so pleased APA is presenting Rep. Watson Coleman with this award,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “She is such an important ally in Congress for us and for all people with mental illness and substance use disorders, and her leadership is bringing real, positive change to communities.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News articles “Congress Considering Bills to Curb Black Youth Suicide” and “Alarming Black Youth Suicide Trend Must Be Addressed, Experts Say.”

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