This morning, I had the honor of speaking to nearly 5,000 attendees at NatCon22, the largest conference in mental health and substance use treatment and our first in-person event in three years.
Our conference comes at a pivotal time. Our nation’s battle with mental health and substance use challenges has worsened over many years, and the pandemic accelerated those challenges.
Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety were inching higher. More than 100,000 people died of overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021 – the first time drug-related deaths eclipsed 100,000 in a 12-month period.
But our members rose to the challenge throughout the pandemic. Our members redefined what it means to help people and communities.
They were there for young people whose lives have been disrupted in ways we’re still trying to understand. They redefined what it means to help Americans who live with a substance use challenge, providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and early intervention initiatives.
They embraced innovation and developed new ways to meet the demand for service, like harm reduction by mail. They redefined the delivery of care by shifting to telehealth almost overnight.
I could not be prouder of the resourcefulness and resilience of the National Council’s 3,200 members, and that’s what I told them today at NatCon22, our annual conference.
Rather than allow the pandemic to stifle them, the pandemic fueled their creativity and drive. National Council members got it done. But so much work remains. So, just like we did over the past two years, we must rise to the challenge once again. We have allies.
President Biden has acknowledged the need to make addressing mental health and substance use challenges a national priority. In both chambers of Congress, lawmakers from both parties are having meaningful discussions about mental health and substance use challenges and are looking to implement solutions, so we will continue our important advocacy work and engage with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
We will search for ways to address the workforce shortage that National Council members face. It represents one of the most pressing issues our members contend with.
We will continue to promote Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) because they expand access to lifesaving care, lower costs, improve outcomes and build capacity.
We will continue to invest in Mental Health First Aid and broaden its reach because it provides people of all ages with the skills they need, now more than ever, to help family and friends in crisis.
We will continue to remind people that health equity remains elusive in America, eliminate barriers to access and fight for parity. The pandemic has exposed the flaws in our health care continuum, and we must make it easier for people to receive care.
It took a pandemic to get people to pay attention, but finally people are listening. Let’s make sure we take advantage of this opportunity to redefine treatment for mental health and substance use challenges.
Let’s take this opportunity to improve mental wellbeing in all communities.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing