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Bill Cassidy: Senate Republican chokes on the impact of mental illness on his family


A Republican senator became emotional when he spoke in deeply personal terms about the importance of mental health care in America.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is expected to take over in January as a top member of the influential Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, told CNN’s Pamela Brown, “Each of us has a family history. A loved one, a friend, someone you know who has a serious mental illness.

For Cassidy, the question is personal. His nephew committed suicide decades ago, and the Louisiana senator is “still emotional after all these years. But everyone has such a moving story.

A licensed physician, Cassidy previously worked in hospitals for the uninsured. He stressed the importance of treating mental and physical health in tandem, noting that “serious mental illness often leads to serious physical illness”.

Last year, the United States recorded 14 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, nearly 800,000 people commit suicide every year, and in 2020 there were 1.2 million attempts worldwide.

The death of Cassidy’s nephew, coupled with his work with vulnerable populations as a physician, made mental health one of his top legislative priorities.

“We have this emotion, and there is nothing to do about it. Or, we can say we’re going to try to do something about it,” he told CNN.

In May, Cassidy, alongside Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, introduced legislation to expand and improve a bipartisan mental health measure that expired in September.

“Whether he’s adopted or not, at the end of the year, I can’t tell you,” Cassidy told CNN. “Otherwise we will re-authorize it again this year.”

As a ranking member, Cassidy will work alongside the committee’s chairman, progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

When asked how the couple would find common ground, Cassidy told CNN that while he might disagree with Sanders on “prescription” for various health issues, they would likely agree on the diagnosis”.

“If it’s something that’s good for the United States of America, I’ll work on that solution,” Cassidy said.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, please call Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 800-273-8255 to connect with a counselor qualified, or visit 988lifeline.org.

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