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American Rescue Plan Act offers City opportunity to meet critical behavioral health needs []

Apr 2, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act presents a tremendous opportunity to improve behavioral health for all Americans. Being touted as one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in decades; its $1.9 trillion in funding has the potential to not only cope with the Coronavirus pandemic, but to move toward recovery and growth. How can this funding create the kind of disruption that is needed to build stronger, more effective, compassionate, and inclusive systems where behavioral health is central?

The mental health and substance use impacts of COVID-19 have been crushing. Between the grief associated with the public health crisis itself, increased unemployment, food and housing insecurity, social isolation, and juggling work and childcare responsibilities, it’s no wonder that almost 8 in 10 adults say that the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. Such stressors can lead to increased mental health disorders.

The number of adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression jumped from 1 in 10 in 2019 to 4 in 10 in January 2021. Mental health professionals are concerned about increased suicidal ideation as well, especially among young adults, racial and ethnic minority groups, unpaid caregivers, and essential workers.

Many Americans are relying on drugs and alcohol to cope with the stressors they’re facing, with roughly 13% reporting increased substance use. What’s more, the number of overdose deaths have increased. In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, the US saw more than 81,000 overdose deaths, 18% more than the previous 12-month period and the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded.

Children and adolescents have also experienced declining mental health over the course of the pandemic. From March through October of last year, the rate of mental health-related ER visits among children ages 5-11 rose 24% from the previous year and 31% among adolescents aged 12-17.

Such stark increases in adverse behavioral health indicators strain our already inadequate systems. The human costs are immeasurable and the economic costs are significant. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, untreated mental illness costs the US roughly $300 billion a year, and almost half of Medicaid dollars are spent on people with mental health or substance use conditions.

As we look toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must meet these complex challenges with significant resources.

To read the full article by Joe Pyle and Kate Williams, click here.