I waited for more than 30 years to hear a speech like the one President Biden delivered last week.
His State of the Union address on March 1 represented the most consequential remarks from the White House on mental health and substance use in decades.
His commitment to strengthening the mental health and substance use infrastructure provides hope that communities will receive the resources they need to repair our collective wellbeing.
So many people who provide mental health and substance use treatment have tried furiously to convince Washington to focus on the unprecedented demand for service and the lack of resources to meet the need.
Ultimately, the pandemic allowed us to focus the nation’s attention to our mental wellbeing – the increase in mental health concerns, the overdose crisis, a workforce shortage that makes it difficult to meet rising demand, barriers to access and health equity.
The president isn’t the only one who understands we can no longer ignore the state of our collective wellbeing. In both chambers of Congress, lawmakers are having meaningful discussion on mental health and substance use challenges and are looking to implement solutions.
It’s extremely encouraging to see every committee of jurisdiction hold hearings because it helps raise awareness about stigma, parity, youth mental health, substance use, suicide, harm reduction and disparities faced by Black and Brown Americans.
It helps us understand just how much work remains in our efforts to build a healthy America and build a healthcare system that serves everyone, no matter what they look like.
The president’s mental health agenda includes addressing the workforce shortage, eliminating barriers to access and initiatives to improve youth mental health.
The number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder has nearly tripled during the pandemic, from 11.0% in 2019 to 31.6% in the fall of 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
His substance use agenda will focus on increased funding, removing barriers to treatment, promoting harm reduction and stopping the flow of illicit drugs. I was so proud to hear the president say “there is so much we can do. Increase funding for prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery… I believe in recovery and I celebrate the 23 million people in recovery.”
Despite his ambition and the welcome attention from Congress, nothing will be accomplished unless Congress provides the resources to fund the programs to help people and communities. So, we will work tirelessly to ensure that funding is available for crisis services needed for 988 implementation and expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs).
CCBHCs provide an opportunity to transform the way people access mental health, substance use and crisis services in our country. They already are in 10 states around the country, but every community needs to have access to the comprehensive care they provide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be accessible by dialing 988 starting in July 2022, but Congress must authorize and appropriate funds for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Lifeline Call Centers, establish a national Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office and ensure adequate crisis services are available throughout the country.
We will continue to raise awareness about the increase in demand for mental health and substance use treatment that has exacerbated the workforce shortage. The workforce shortage that organizations providing mental health and substance use treatment services face today represents one of the greatest threats to our collective wellbeing.
It was encouraging to hear the president say “we must dramatically expand the supply, diversity and cultural competency of our mental health and substance use disorder workforce — from psychiatrists to psychologists, peers to paraprofessionals — and increase both opportunity and incentive for them to practice in areas of highest need.”
It took more than 30 years to hear a president address mental health and substance use in a meaningful way.
But it was worth the wait.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing