Senators call for increased mental health funds in future relief bills

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Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME) called for increased funding of mental and behavioral health in any future COVID-19 relief legislation in a letter to Senate leadership on Thursday.

Citing concerns over reports that Americans are struggling with negative mental health effects due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Senators asked for increased investment in community and child mental health programs in the next round of federal funding already being discussed on Capitol Hill.

“As COVID-19 takes its toll on the physical health of hundreds of thousands of Americans, we must immediately address and plan for the short-, medium-, and long-term impacts of this pandemic on our nation’s collective mental health. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 45 percent of adults say the pandemic has already affected their mental health, with 19 percent saying it has had a major impact,” the senators wrote.

In the letter, the Senators said COVID-19 and the isolation from stay-at-home orders issued by governments to combat the spread of the virus, pose as threats to several populations including those in marginalized communities with limited resources, those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are recovering themselves, those with substance use disorders who may experience difficulties with relapse or recovery, and seniors who may be struggling with dementia or other cognitive declines.

“The pandemic may also exacerbate existing disparities in the mental health care system in the U.S. For individuals in marginalized communities, including racial and ethnic minority groups, mental health challenges are often compounded by systemic disparities such as insufficient access to resources and services, stigma surrounding mental illness, and lack of access to culturally-competent mental health care. Statistics show that 25 percent of Asian adults, 31 percent of black adults, 33 percent of Hispanic adults, and 32 percent of adults of multiracial descent that have a mental health diagnosis received treatment or counseling in the past year – compared to 49 percent of white adults. Moreover, our behavioral health workforce was experiencing a shortage prior to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Failure to invest resources into both our mental health and SUD services and our behavioral health workforce risks aggravating these gaps,” the Senators said in the letter.

The Senators called for increased funding for Community Mental Health Services Block Grant programs, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, mental and behavioral health training through the Health Resources and Services Administration, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block grant programs, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suicide prevention programs.

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