The White House wants to focus on mental health

The White House wants to focus on mental health

WASHINGTON — “Mental health in the United States is poor and worsening,” the headline said, noting the growing prevalence of depression and other psychiatric disorders among Americans. While the claim rings perfectly true today, it comes from an early 2019 report compiled by the American Heart Association and a consortium of business leaders.

Just under a year later, China would report the first cases of “pneumonia of unknown etiology” in the city of Wuhan. Soon, the outbreak would be attributed to a novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. As the virus spread, the world went into lockdown. Schools closed. The offices have become dark. Millions of people isolated at home, waiting month after month for the coronavirus pandemic to finally calm down.

A teenage girl reads an assignment at her home in Brooklyn in March 2020, after her school closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Only the pandemic continued. Daily figures of the dying, hospitalized and sick dominated the news. Each new variation brought with it new waves of fear and exasperation, uncertainty and dread. At the start of 2022, it seemed like everyone was exhausted: old and young, families and singles, first responders, teachers, students, doctors, airline workers, journalists and even mental health professionals tasked with keeping burnout at bay. .

“What if pandemic anxiety and depression changes the culture of humanity more than COVID-19?” Gallup President Jim Clifton wondered in a late 2021 blog post.

This issue has come to the fore as the threat of COVID-19 has become a mainstream concern for many Americans – including, it seems, President Biden, who declared the pandemic “over” in a “60 Minutes” interview aired on Sunday. . More than two years of social isolation, combined with a growing reliance on digital technology, have only exacerbated a crisis that predated COVID-19 by several years and will almost certainly outlast social distancing reminders scuffed in communities. floors of office buildings.

“People are really, really depressed,” Biden said in June, acknowledging a point that had become all too obvious. In recent months, the Biden administration has poured billions into suicide prevention efforts, initiatives to bolster the ranks of mental health professionals and address the crisis in the crisis that is youth mental health. .

President Biden.

President Biden in the Oval Office on September 16. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s absolutely critical that we deal with this,” Susan Rice, who heads the White House domestic policy council, told Yahoo News in a recent phone interview, saying the enormous scale of the problem – in least 52.9 million adults in the United States have experienced some form of mental distress, according to 2020 estimates – calls for direct and urgent action.

The results suggest that 150 million people across the country do not have easy access to a mental health professional.

“It’s something that affects every community,” Rice said, adding that social issues like homelessness are “powerfully exacerbated” by longstanding shortcomings in the country’s mental health care system. The question is whether a White House already grappling with several overlapping political and administrative battles — over Ukraine, inflation, midterm terms, government funding, education — can grant mental health the attention it deserves.

“We do a lot of things that you would want to see,” says Susan Borja, senior researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. She pointed to the “job shortages” the Biden administration is trying to improve — the country needs 6,000 more mental health workers, to start — as evidence of a new concern for “basic things” that were remained unanswered for a long time.

And the administration intends to see the mental health profession attract black and brown professionals who can work in long-neglected communities where mistrust of the medical establishment persists and recognition of psychological issues may be accompanied by social stigma. “It doesn’t matter less who fixes your hip than who fixes your head,” Rice says.

In this illustration photo, we see the silhouette of a teenager posing with a laptop, looking stressed.

In 2021, 37% of high school students attested to a deterioration in their mental health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo illustration: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Among the most persistent problems is the difficulty of having mental health care covered by insurance companies. Forty percent of all people with untreated mental health problems say they did not receive treatment because they could not afford it, while 22% said their insurance plans did not cover mental health treatment at all or provided insufficient coverage. The White House believes the shortfall could be partly closed through a concept known as “behavioral health integration,” which aims to align mental health coverage with coverage for purely physical illnesses that respond more easily to the stipulations of insurance plans.

Perhaps no group has seen its mental health deteriorate as abruptly and disastrously as the youth. High-profile suicides have highlighted just how much students have suffered during the pandemic. Meanwhile, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that in 2021, 37% of high school students reported worsening mental health. Emergency rooms were overflowing with teenagers who had tried to end their lives.

“If you look at young people, they were disconnected from their peers. They were forced to learn remotely,” says Rice, acknowledging the social challenges of distance education. “Many have seen loved ones die.”

The administration is also blunt about the detrimental role social media platforms appear to play in the lives of young people, arguing that tech companies and other platforms need to better regulate advertising and content that inappropriately targets children, like popular Instagram accounts that seem to encourage eating disorders.

Susan Rice speaks from a podium during the daily White House press briefing.

Susan Rice at the daily White House press briefing on August 24. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

“The President not only believes we should have much stronger protections for children’s data and privacy,” said a recent White House brief on mental health, “but that platforms and other service providers Interactive digital media should be required to prioritize and ensure the health, safety and well-being of children and young people above profit and revenue in the design of their products and services.

The Biden administration has allocated $300 million to youth-focused mental health efforts, as well as $20 million to Mission Daybreak, a project aimed at preventing veteran suicide.

“We are working to move these funds quickly,” a senior administration official said, speaking broadly of the various White House efforts.

Perhaps the most consequential development so far has been the new suicide hotline number 988, replacing the more unwieldy 800-273-8255. The change took place in July; the number of calls the following month increased by 45% compared to the previous year.

Underpinning this effort is the belief that mental health plays an inescapable role in many of the disturbing stories and violence that unfold on the news every night.

“Mental health is a force multiplier for a number of areas,” agrees the administration official working on mental health, describing public safety as another area where psychological distress is often a contributing factor. “To go upstream, we need to address the mental health challenges that people are facing,” the official added, before those challenges manifest socially.

For an administration that has made “fairness” and “unity” the beacons of its national policies, the ravages of unaddressed mental health – evident on city streets, workplaces and in classrooms – are proof that there is still a lot of work to do.

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