No matter where you live or where you fall on the political spectrum, mental health is one topic that’s important to all of us. With the midterm election 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 impacting Americans seemingly more than ever before. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth experience a mental illness in a given year.
So many incredible advocates and organizations are working to better the mental health of people across the United States. Yet, much of the responsibility around funds and awareness falls to the government. Luckily, this is one of the very few issues garnering 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 those with mental illness, which will help to destigmatize,” says Dr. Zishan Khan, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
“When the government encourages people to learn more about this topic by funding programs that promote mental health awareness, diagnosis, and treatment, it ends up showing its constituents that mental healthcare is not to be ignored and must be properly addressed.”
Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill
In May, senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Bill to the Senate floor.
This bill includes plans to:
- Reauthorize programs put forward in 2016 by the 21st Century Cares Act.
- Expand the review process of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) processes.
- Increase the number of mental health care workers
- Expand pediatric mental health care
- Evaluate the parity of insurance companies’ mental health coverage.
Mental Health Matters Act
At the end of September, the House of Representatives passed the Mental Health Matters Act. The bill focuses on increasing mental health support for students, families, and educators across the country.
If enacted into law, this bill would:
- Direct the Department of Education to direct grants to increase and retain mental health providers in schools, specifically in high-need areas.
- Guarantee disability accommodation and greater transparency for students with existing disabilities entering higher education.
- Increase the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce private, employer-sponsored health plans to provide required substance use disorder and mental health benefits.
Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022
Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) introduced the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022 in May. Shortly after, congressman David J. Trone (D-MD) co-sponsored it.
If signed into law, the act would:
- Ensure over 30 mental health programs—ranging from education to prevention—remained through 2027. These include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline program, Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances Program, and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.
- Expand substance use disorder care, including removing the stipulation that requires people to use opioids for a year before qualifying for opioid treatment programs.
“Increased awareness will lead to more resources being offered that can assist those that are seeking assistance or could potentially be helped,” Khan says of the need for greater educational programs.
“Eventually, this can lead to those suffering from mental health disorders being able to have greater access to proper health care, housing options, and educational and employment opportunities.”
Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion (RISE) From Trauma Act
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced The RISE From Trauma Act in 2021. If passed, it would accomplish the following:
- Specific funds could be accessed to create and run pilot projects that better the well-being of children experiencing trauma.
- Increase the number of trauma-informed frontline workers and law enforcement, thanks to additional training, including at a Department of Justice-run national education center.
- Establish tertiary prevention projects for hospital patients brought in due to suicide attempts or substance overdoses and primary prevention projects aimed at reducing stress and trauma.
Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021
Veteran rates of PTSD are estimated to be between 11% and 20% across the United States. Additionally, according to NAMI, the last quarter of 2020 saw a 25% increase in veteran suicides compared to the same time period in 2019.
Last year, President Biden signed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 into law. It was named for Sgt. Brandon Ketchum, who died by suicide in 2016 after an Iowa-based Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) center denied him mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The legislation has two parts:
- The first requires the VA to create three new centers for the Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) Program.
- It also requires the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the VA has the resources to support veterans who need mental health services beyond outpatient care.
What This Means for You
“Ultimately, we need to strive to keep our politicians cognizant of the importance of mental health care so that eventually, our society will view those suffering from mental illness as people worthy of our attention, compassion, and humanity,” says Khan.
“It’s important that people aren’t defined by what they are diagnosed with. When we look at someone with a mental illness, we should see them as an actual person and not as a manifestation of a certain diagnosis.”