In the face of pressing economic issues and foreign policy crises, President Biden delivered a State of the Union address this week that offered important recognition of another issue that is impacting all Americans – our mental health and addiction crisis. It comes on top of a robust set of proposals on mental health his administration is proposing in his fiscal year 2023 budget.
As mental health advocates, it was a day that felt long in coming. Finally, an American president is proposing reforms that truly meet the moment we are in – and that offer clear solutions for how to move forward.
The president’s plan will bring the weight of the federal government to bear by assigning critical roles to multiple federal agencies, and it constitutes the largest push of its kind in modern history. The administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 offers nearly $3 billion in investments in mental health initiatives, including $700 million to implement the new 988 hotline. Biden is also calling for an additional $700 million to provide training, access to scholarships and loan repayment to clinicians that provide care for mental health and substance use disorders – provided they commit to practicing in rural and other underserved communities.
If approved by Congress, these funds have the potential to increase access to care for millions of Americans who struggle to find a mental health provider.
In addition, the proposed FY23 budget calls for all health plans to cover a wide array of mental health and substance use disorder services with an adequate network of providers, in accordance with the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. An increase in funding, as well as stricter enforcement of the law, will ensure that Americans who seek mental health treatment are not discriminated against or made to pay out of pocket unfairly. And while the language leaves some room to interpretation, it does look like the Administration is at least considering expanding parity to Medicare.
The mental health community has spent decades petitioning – pleading with Congress to pass legislation to bring care into community settings. The administration plans to make substantial investments in community-initiated programs and looks to allocate an initial $50 million in a pilot program that would embed mental health services in non-traditional settings like libraries, homeless shelters, and schools. If successful, this program could revolutionize the way Americans perceive and receive care.
Biden’s agenda also prioritizes America’s youth. He recognized in his speech that young people’s “lives and education have been turned upside down” and that they are experiencing skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety. He rightly decried the targeting of youth by social media companies and called on Congress to ban excessive data collection and targeted online advertising aimed at children.
While the $1 billion already allocated from the FY22 budget is much needed, the additional $1 billion proposed for FY23 will build on that investment and bring more mental health professionals to schools. Schools are where our children spend most of their time, and having resources there provides an important opportunity to intervene when and where they need it.
Taking care of our children isn’t just a matter for government. We were encouraged by the president’s call on Americans to become tutors and mentors to help our students recover from this period of isolation. As Biden notes, those that do serve their community will find it a “rich and rewarding” experience that may also boost their own mental health.
Perhaps most important, the Biden administration has shown that it truly grasps a key concept: This crisis is not a medical one, but a societal one. Now we need our representatives and policymakers to heed the call to action from other leaders like Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
The rising rates of drug overdoses, eating disorders, and mental health emergency room visits for our children cannot be seen as “business as usual,” or acceptable costs of reaching a “new normal.” If we are to heal as a nation, we need Congress to join President Biden’s mission and pass the laws and provide the funds for programs that promote mental well-being, encourage care-seeking, and champion recovery.
President Biden’s first State of the Union address showcased to the country and to the world that America is ready to lead on complex and difficult issues. His overarching message was one of hope but without ignoring nor diminishing the gravity of the crises we face. If his policies on mental health are pursued by Congress, every single family in America, in red states and blue states alike, could benefit. What better legacy could a President leave than a foundation that improves our nation’s mental health?