Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) introduced Senate Bill 21-40 to establish a Behavioral Health Professional Scholarship in the CNMI during a Senate session last Sept. 26.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines behavioral health as “the promotion of mental health, resilience and well-being; the treatment of mental and substance use disorders; and the support of those who experience and/or are in recovery from these conditions.” Students pursuing behavioral health degrees may go on to become psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, social workers or substance abuse professionals—all of which are in demand here in our Commonwealth.
S.B. 21-40 proposes to award scholarships to five students in undergraduate and five students in graduate behavioral health programs each year for a maximum of four years and two years, respectively. The proposed award amounts are $8,000 per annum for students of the Northern Marianas College and $15,000 per annum for students attending four-year college or university in the United States or its territories. The bill requires awardees to maintain a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale and return to and work in the CNMI after obtaining their behavioral health degrees. The CNMI Scholarship Office would take the lead on administering the program, which will sunset after a five-year period.
“I invite all stakeholders and interested individuals to comment on Senate Bill 21-40,” said Hofschneider, “so we can improve it, if necessary, and ensure it fulfills its original intent of improving behavioral health services in the Marianas.”
“With the recent trends in teen suicide and opioid abuse, it is important that the CNMI takes the initiative to improve our capacity to treat behavioral health issues,” said Hofschneider, who serves as the vice chairman of the Behavioral Health Oversight Committee under the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education or WICHE.
In a recent WICHE committee meeting, Hofschneider learned that “75% of a person’s behavioral health issues develops during childhood, so early childhood intervention is key to ensuring our youth grow into adults with a healthy mental health. We need more behavioral health professionals to make that happen. With S.B. 21-40, we hope to attract students to the field of behavioral health so that more professionals can help adults and children with behavioral health issues in the CNMI.” (PR)