Continuing America’s Conversation on Mental Health and Addictions Care Access
Do you remember the moment you realized that timely access to mental health and addictions services is important? It’s different for all of us. For some, it’s the first time you try to help a family member, a friend, a colleague or yourself navigate a mental health or addiction crisis. Unfortunately, many Americans discover that gaining access to care can be a challenge.
For me it became real when I was 18 years old. I had started volunteering at a shelter for homeless women and noticed that most of the people I served at the shelter suffered from trauma, mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders that were going untreated. At that moment, I realized that I wanted to make sure mental health and addictions needs were treated with the same urgency as physical ones.
Whole person care is the goal.
There’s no doubt in my mind that since that time, acknowledgement of the need for mental health and addictions services has grown exponentially in this country. In fact, in America’s Mental Health 2018, a study conducted by the National Council and Cohen Veterans Network found that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe that mental health (with addictions included in this definition) is just as important as physical health.
Although we celebrate the fact that the American public is embracing whole person health care as the standard, the fight isn’t over. The study also revealed that despite America’s overwhelming support of mental health and addictions care, five systemic and social barriers keep many individuals from receiving it:
- Knowledge of where to go – 46 percent of those who have never sought treatment would not know where to go if they needed mental health services for themselves, a family member or a friend.
- Distance – Nearly half (46 percent) of American adults have had to, or know someone who has had to, travel more than one hour roundtrip to their most recent mental health care appointment.
- Wait times – 96 million American adults (38 percent) have had to wait longer than one week for mental health services.
- Cost – One in four Americans have had to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities.
- Stigma – 52 percent have tried to “grin and bear it” instead of seeing a doctor when feeling depressed or mentally unwell.
As the new president and CEO of the National Council, it is my priority to work alongside all of you to open up access to care for everyone. To see a shift in the mental health landscape, it isn’t enough to just talk about the findings. We need to implement solutions.
In partnership with Cohen Veterans Network, I’d like to introduce the America’s Mental Health Campaign. Through this initiative, we are committed to promoting community care models that work. Such as Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), an expanded mental health and addictions workforce, linking philanthropy funds to community mental health and addictions organizations and more.
But it doesn’t end there. We are continually looking to our members, affiliates and community stakeholders to share good news with us of their initiatives and innovations that have worked in bringing change to their communities so that others can replicate it.
We are looking to champions on Capitol Hill who believe in our mission and tirelessly promote and support the successes of CCBHCs, like Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), as well as those who work toward the expansion of the mental health and addictions workforce like Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).
We are looking at new ways to engage community stakeholders in the mission of whole person care, like how Cohen Veterans Network provides community and culturally responsive care through philanthropy.
We are looking to everyone to bring something to the table, because access to whole person health care should be everyone’s priority. I look forward to continually leading the charge as we work together towards opening more access to mental and addictions care.