WASHINGTON – Growing behavioral health needs and existing workforce inadequacies are amplifying calls for Congress to provide additional resources to address a national mental health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19, the economic recession, and social isolation.
The pandemic has stressed the nation’s behavioral health infrastructure at a time when the country has seen increases in overdose deaths, suicides, and reports of anxiety and depression.
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month on almost 190 million emergency visits during the pandemic found that visit rates for mental health conditions, suicide attempts, and drug overdoses were higher from mid-March through October 2020 than in the same period of 2019.
The authors say their findings suggest the need for prevention, screening, and interventions at all societal levels, and the importance of longitudinal surveillance to monitor the long-term impacts of COVID-19.
Public health experts, advocates and government officials have been sounding alarms about the secondary health effects of the pandemic and recession since early last year, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data underscored the pressing nature of the problem.
Shawn Ryan, chair of the Legislative Advocacy Committee at the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said that so far, the government has poured relatively small amounts of funding into a concern that requires a more sustained solution.
“In reality, you know, the state and federal federal initiatives to address this issue have not been commensurate with the substantial nature of the problem,” said Ryan.
A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden would provide $4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
That would build on $4.25 billion for mental health provided in the year-end spending package for fiscal 2021.