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October 18, 2023

Money and mental health: experts, lawmakers say lack of funding is limiting access 

Credit: The Hill

A lack of funding and resources can prevent Americans from getting the mental health care they need, experts say.

“Let’s talk about resources, and then we can talk about the mental health crisis,” Susan Gurley, executive director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said at Wednesday morning’s panel: “Every Mind Matters: The Many Dimensions of Mental Illness”.

The event was moderated by The Hill’s Editor in Chief Bob Cusack and sponsored by pharmaceutical company Otsuka.

The conversation came amid the nation’s ongoing mental health crisis.

According to research from 2021, two-in-five American adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Roughly 5 percent of adults in the U.S. have also reported signs of schizophrenia, generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lawmakers, mental health experts and advocates joined together at Wednesday’s event to discuss how stigmas associated with mental health can be broken and how to build a comprehensive health care system that supports individuals affected by mental illness, among other topics.

The lawmakers seemingly agreed that the lack of resources makes it more difficult for those who need help to receive it, and that a larger investment into mental health is necessary.

“For every dollar put in toward mental health treatment, we get a 12-dollar return,” Rep. David Trone (D- Md.) said. “So, we underinvest in our most precious resource, our children.”

“That’s what we’re all here for, the next generation,” he added.

Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) argued for more funding in programs such as education and prison reform to ensure that Americans can get to the root of the problem.

“We have to funnel more money,” McClain said, adding “whether you look at the prison system or whether you look at the addiction system. If you peel that onion back, it comes back to mental health.”

The two lawmakers, which co-chair the House Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder task force, said mental health is an issue that most members of Congress can agree upon.

Through their work on the task force, 26 mental health bills have been signed into law within the past year. The Senate has also taken insportation from their work, they said, referencing Tuesday’s launch of the bipartisan Mental Health Caucus.

The panelists on Wednesday explained that mental health affects people on both sides of the aisle.

“Mental Health doesn’t look Republican, it doesn’t look Democratic, it doesn’t look independent, it looks like all of us,” Daniel Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) said Wednesday.

Trone and McClain say the rural communities in both of their districts have seen improvements in the resources since before the COVID-19 pandemic — which revealed a gap in mental health resources.

“I have a lot of rural communities in my district, and we did a lot of telehealth,” McClain said, referencing the pandemic era. “Mental health was a big positive because before you’d have to drive two hours if you could even afford it, but now you could get on the internet and you could do a zoom mental health meeting.”

“I get it’s not perfect and it’s not as good as sitting down one-to-one, but it’s a heck of a lot better,” she added, noting that telehealth was not just influential in changing people’s minds, “but also getting [to] people in the rural communities like I represent.”

Trone agreed, calling telemental health a “game changer,” especially in rural areas where the top issue is addiction.

Other panelists agreed that America’s health care system needed to be upgraded to address the mental health struggles that Americans face daily.

“The best of the best was offered to me, and it was woefully inadequate,” Gabe Howard, an author and mental health advocate, said. “You can only imagine the rural areas, the no health insurance, the no protective factors.”

Now 46, Howard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 26 years old.

Through his first 26 years of life, those around him — including his parents — thought he had behavioral issues and never thought he was mentally ill. Howard said that he had regular suicidal thoughts, and even accepted it as normal.

He was not diagnosed with the disorder until getting treated in a psychiatric hospital.

“It comes down to a massive restructuring,” Howard said.

Gurley said another factor that prevents Americans from getting proper care is a shortage of mental health care workers.

She encouraged lawmakers to address the shortage as they create policy about mental health. While breaking the stigma surrounding mental health is important, unless an improvement is made, the conversation can be “meaningless,” Gurley said concluded.

If people finally accept that they need help and seek out a therapist but there are none available, it can lead to an even worse mental health situation for the individual, she added.