Running for president? Don’t forget about mental health and addiction.
Our failure to adequately address mental health and addiction has devastated American communities.
Right now, mental health* and addiction are hot topics — relatively speaking. Articles flood our news feeds daily, with stories of people losing their loved ones to suicide and drug overdose. But while these tragedies are getting attention, these stories are symptomatic of deeper, systemic issues. If you’re only peripherally aware of the greatest public health crises of our lifetime, here are some stats to paint a clearer picture:
- 46.6 million Americans experience mental illness each year, and less than half receive any treatment
- 47,173 Americans died by suicide in 2017, making suicide the leading cause of death for youth and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States
- More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdose in 2017
- Nearly half (42%) of Americans with mental illness and substance use disorders see cost and poor insurance as the top barrier for accessing mental health care
- Untreated mental illness costs the country at least $444 billion per year, mostly due to lost productivity and disability payments
These illnesses affect every single one of us in some way, and leaving them unaddressed will continue to have long-lasting, detrimental impacts on our communities. We need large-scale, comprehensive, and immediate action from our leaders.
To spark movement, eight of the nation’s most prominent mental health and addiction advocacy groups launched Mental Health for US, a nonpartisan educational coalition elevating mental health and addiction to policy conversations around the country by empowering advocates and improving policymaker health literacy. Our coalition, which is 40 members strong and growing, has united behind a common policy platform outlining some of the most urgent steps our country must take on these issues.
Our hope is that policymakers at all levels of government — including those running for president in 2020 — will read our policy platform below and take to heart the solutions needed to prevent deaths of despair and increase access to life-saving mental health and addiction treatment services.
Prevention: Stakeholders on the local, state, and national levels must unite to foster healthy environments for all Americans that support mental health as a part of overall health.
- The U.S. health care system must prioritize “check up from the neck up” screenings and early interventions so that we can treat mental health and substance use disorders (MH/SUDs) “before stage four,” starting with perinatal behavioral health.
- Policymakers should prioritize funding and resources that promote early intervention and treatment in early care and education systems by implementing a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to mental health. This includes efforts such as social-emotional learning initiatives, increased access to mental health professionals for all students and as part of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), home visiting programs, and mental health curricula and programs in schools that help people understand signs, symptoms, and when to seek help.
- Comprehensive approaches to supporting mental health and reducing risks for suicide must be prioritized by educational institutions, law enforcement agencies, emergency rooms and hospitals, workplaces, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
- Local, state, and national policymakers must provide additional resources to meet the needs of marginalized communities in relation to MH/SUDs, such as people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Native Americans, veterans and military service members, and those in trauma-impacted neighborhoods.
- The federal government must make substantial increases in medical research for mental health, suicide prevention, substance use disorders, and diagnostic tools to better understand these conditions and to provide better resources and more effective treatment for those struggling.
Access and Intervention: All people with mental health conditions, including but not limited to substance use disorders, eating disorders, and serious mental illnesses, deserve timely access to affordable treatment and services that treat the mind and the body.
- Federal and state governments should fully enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (Federal Parity Law), which requires insurers to cover treatment for MH/SUDs no more restrictively than treatment for illnesses of the body, such as the flu, diabetes, or heart disease.
- Policymakers must invest resources that strengthen and grow the mental health workforce and ensure there are enough inpatient and outpatient resources across the country to provide needed care to a broad array of patients. Providers must have the freedom to use telemedicine and other digital tools, especially in rural areas.
- Equip the law enforcement community and other first responders with the tools they need to help those affected by MH/SUDs, including the overdose reversal medicine, naloxone; training to recognize when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or symptoms of serious mental illnesses (SMI) and how to de-escalate such situations; and information about community resources.
- Policymakers should invest in improved community crisis services — such as mobile crisis units, crisis hotlines, crisis centers, and the use of non-law enforcement transportation — to help those in crisis, focusing on providing care and supportive services rather than engaging law enforcement.
- Our criminal justice system should not criminalize diseases of the brain and warehouse those in need of treatment in jails and prisons. We must expand crisis intervention teams, increase the use of drug and mental health courts, make medication-assisted treatment (MAT) available to those currently incarcerated, and abolish mandatory minimum sentencing.
- Medicaid must be retained and protected, and Congress should eliminate limits on care within Medicaid and Medicare and put an end to coverage discrimination within these programs.
- The life-saving drug naloxone should be available in every community setting, including workplaces, libraries, community centers, train and metro stations, universities, and schools.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network and the nation’s crisis centers must be funded by federal, state, and local entities to meet the current needs and future demands.
- Congress should expand Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) across the country to address the mental health workforce shortage and to make enhanced services available in community settings.
- Emergency services personnel, first responders, teachers and school administrators, primary care professionals, students, and other members of the community should be educated through trainings such as Mental Health First Aid and Ending the Silence to recognize signs that someone is struggling or may be living with MH/SUD, understand how to reach out, and know where to refer people for professional help when needed. Trainings should be culturally and linguistically competent and invested in to provide the best care to each community.
Recovery: Recovery from mental health and substance use disorders is not one-size-fits-all. A wide variety of recovery services, treatments, and support should be available to those who need it.
- Behavioral health and primary care treatment providers must adopt evidence-based services and implement measurement-based care to maximize the likelihood of recovery.
- People living with mental illness should have the opportunity to develop psychiatric advance directives to determine future treatment needs.
- Policymakers should protect and expand programs that provide supported housing, peer and caregiver support, system navigation, medication-assisted treatment, community integration, job and skill training, and education for all people with mental health and substance use disorders.
Let’s show policymakers that we care about mental health and addiction — sign the statement of support!
*We use the term mental health in the broadest sense possible, from wellness and mild symptoms to serious and persistent mental illness.
Mental Health for US is a nonpartisan, educational coalition elevating mental health and addiction in policy conversations around the country. Mental Health for US does not participate or intervene in any political campaign for public office.