Don’t Be a Lame Duck: Advocate for Change

US Capitol Building at sunset

It’s time to make a difference.

The last few days of the current session of the 117th Congress provide opportunities to help people living with substance use and mental health challenges and support the organizations and care providers on the frontlines of the mental health and substance use crisis.

But we must act now, while negotiations over an omnibus budget deal are still in play. Now is the time to let lawmakers know how important it is to authorize programs to help their constituents and the organizations providing treatment and services by including funding for mental health and substance use programs in the year-end legislative package.

That’s where you come in.

The clock may be ticking on the lame duck session of Congress, but we still have a chance to build on this year’s mental health and substance use-focused legislative successes before the year ends. But our window of opportunity is closing fast, and we must take action and reach out to our members of Congress. We’ve made it easy for you to send a message to Congress through the National Council website. We’ve even provided sample language.

Here’s what’s at stake.

Demand for substance use and mental health treatment and services has reached historically high levels at the same time our diminished workforce has reached a breaking point. The substance use and mental health care workforce is in dire need of support.

The overdose crisis has claimed more than 107,000 lives in the past year. According to mentalhealth.gov, about 20% of American adults experienced a mental health issue in 2020 and nearly one in 20 Americans live with a severe mental illness. A survey released in May revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an especially high toll on youth mental health with seven in 10 public schools reporting a rise in the number of children seeking services, according to The Washington Post. Hospital emergency room visits spiked for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We know lawmakers are paying attention. Earlier this year, passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act demonstrated that they grasp the scope of our nation’s mental health crisis. But that legislation shouldn’t be the final measure Congress passes this year to address the substance use and mental health crisis.

We have much more work to do to make mental wellbeing, including recovery from substance use challenges, a reality for everyone. We cannot be mentally well and actively thriving if we are unable to access services and support to navigate a mental health or substance use challenge.

We have much more work to do to support a workforce in need of resources.

The Mental Health Liaison Group has urged lawmakers to support the Behavioral Health Workforce for the Future Act, which was included in one of the bipartisan “discussion drafts” developed by the Senate Finance Committee. The Behavioral Health Workforce for the Future Act includes the Mental Health Access Improvement Act, two provisions of the Improving Access to Mental Health Act and many other vitally important programs to help people, communities and the workforce.

Organizations that provide substance use and mental health treatment require many more services to help communities, and the strategies carefully outlined in the Behavioral Health Workforce for the Future Act can help resolve ongoing workforce issues. Lawmakers would be wise to include them in the year-end legislative package.

There are many positive signals that lawmakers want to make meaningful progress to help communities address the substance use and mental health crisis. There are a number of bills under discussion that would reauthorize critical programs, expand access to critical services in Medicare and Medicaid, extend telehealth and improve parity. But none of those programs will be enacted unless they are part of the year-end legislative package under discussion

We can’t assume the goodwill of lawmakers will translate into effective public policy. Our advocacy efforts will make the difference

They will make a difference for people in rural areas who rely on telehealth by extending pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities.

They will make a difference for people who need care by helping organizations recruit and retain employees.

They will make a difference for substance use and mental health treatment organizations by reducing administrative burdens and updating reimbursement policies.

But none of that will happen unless we advocate to members of Congress. Now is the time to include the substance use and mental health provisions in the year-end legislative package.

The lame duck is an opportunity for us to make a difference through advocacy.

Please reach out to your member of Congress today, so we can ensure that organizations have the resources they need to serve their communities.

Author

Charles Ingoglia, MSW
President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio