- The election is a good time to assess what the US government is doing to improve the mental health of the American people.
- Several live and proposed bills are working to increase access to effective and affordable care.
- Advocating for mental health reform can go a long way toward creating change.
State of Mind is an ongoing series investigating laws and government policies affecting mental health in America
No matter where you live or where you fall on the political spectrum, mental health is an important issue for all of us. With the midterm elections this week, it’s a good time to reflect on what the federal government is doing—or trying to do—to expand mental health education and care for all.
It’s no secret that mental health is affecting Americans more than ever. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth experience mental illness in a given year.
There are many incredible advocates and organizations working to improve the mental health of people across the United States. Still, much of the responsibility for funding and awareness falls on the government. Fortunately, this is one of the very few issues to garner bipartisan support, with several bills in the works that have support from both sides of the political aisle.
“Our national, state and local governments have the power to invest in programs that support people with mental illness, which will help break the stigma,” said Dr. Zeeshan Khan, a psychiatrist at MindPath Health.
“When the government encourages learning more about this issue by funding programs that promote mental health awareness, diagnosis and treatment, it shows its constituents that mental health care should not be ignored and properly addressed.”
Below are five mental health-focused bills to know, four of which are still awaiting passage.
Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill
In May 2022, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill On the Senate floor.
Accordingly, they referred it to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This bill includes plans to:
- Reauthorize programs put forward in 2016 by the 21st Century CARES Act
- Expand the review process of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) processes.
- Increase the number of mental health workers
- Expand pediatric mental health care
- Assess the adequacy of insurance company mental health coverage.
Mental Health Act
At the end of September 2022, the House of Representatives passed Mental Health Act… It was introduced by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and subsequently co-sponsored by Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL) and Representative Gregorio Killili Camacho Sablan (D-MP-at-Large).
Zeeshan Khan, MD
When the government encourages people to learn more about this topic by funding programs that promote mental health…it ultimately shows its constituents that mental health care should not be ignored and properly addressed.
– Zeeshan Khan, MD
The bill focuses on increasing mental health support for students, families and educators across the country. Its rationale points to issues such as the pandemic’s negative impact on people’s mental health and each state’s recommended student-to-social worker or student-to-psychologist ratio.
If enacted into law, this bill would:
- Direct grants to the Department of Education to increase and retain mental health providers in schools, particularly in high-need areas.
- Ensuring disability accommodations and greater transparency in access to higher education for students with existing disabilities.
- Increase the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce private, employer-sponsored health plans to provide needed substance use disorder and mental health benefits.
Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Wellbeing Act of 2022
Introduced by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Wellbeing Act of 2022 In May. After a while, Congressman David J. Trone (D-MD) co-sponsored it. It passed the House the following month, 402-20, in an incredible display of bipartisanship.
If signed into law, the law will:
- Ensure that over 30 mental health programs from education to prevention remain in place by 2027. These include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Program, Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Severe Mental Disorders, and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants.
- Expand substance use disorder care, including removing the requirement that people use opioids for one year before they qualify for opioid treatment programs.
“Increased awareness will lead to more resources being offered that can help those who are seeking help or could potentially be helped,” Khan said of the need for greater educational programs.
“Ultimately, this can lead to greater access to proper health care, housing options, and educational and employment opportunities for people suffering from mental health disorders,” Khan added.
Resilience to Trauma Act Investing, Supporting, and Expanding (RISE)
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced RISE from Trauma Act In 2021. If passed, it will do the following:
- Specific funding can be accessed to develop and run pilot projects that improve the well-being of children experiencing trauma.
- Increase the number of trauma-informed frontline workers and law enforcement, thanks to additional training, including a Department of Defense-run national education center.
- Establish tertiary prevention programs for hospitalized patients due to suicide attempts or substance overdoses, and primary prevention programs aimed at reducing stress and trauma.
Katherine Smerling, PhD, is a psychotherapist and family therapy professional
People who don’t get mental health help or don’t recognize that mental health help is as important as getting a proper cast can turn to things that can be solved or stopped before they start.
— Katherine Smerling, PhD, is a psychotherapist and family therapy professional
Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021
Experience rates of PTSD across the United States are estimated to be between 11% and 20%. Additionally, according to NAMI, there was a 25% increase in experienced suicides in the last quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Signed by President Biden on June 30, 2021 Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 In law it was named for Sgt. Brandon Ketchum, who killed himself in 2016 after an Iowa-based Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) center denied him mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“People who don’t get mental health help or don’t recognize that mental health help is as important as putting on a proper cast may turn to things that can be addressed or stopped before they start,” says Dr. Smerling.
Congresswoman Cindy Axney (D-IA) first introduced the legislation in April 2021. It took just two months to pass the Senate and become law. The Act has two parts.
- The Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) program first requires VA to build three new centers.
- The Government Accountability Office is also required to investigate whether the VA has the resources to support veterans who need mental health services beyond outpatient care.
Veteran organizations such as Disabled American Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project have endorsed the legislation.
What does this mean for you?
You don’t have to sit and wait for these bills to pass or have an impact. Your voice and actions matter on and after Election Day.
“Ultimately, we need to make efforts to make our politicians aware of the importance of mental health care so that, ultimately, our society can see people with mental illness as individuals deserving of our attention, compassion and humanity,” Khan said.
“It is important that people are not defined by what they are diagnosed with. When we see someone with a mental illness, we should see them as a real person and not as a manifestation of a specific diagnosis.”