It can feel overwhelming to experience the broken pieces of our system and frustrating to not see this crisis prioritized by our elected officials. At Inseparable, we spend a lot of time listening to understand the current state of America’s mental health. The pandemic has exposed a profound need as well as an already insufficient and often inaccessible system there to meet the demand. Millions of Americans are reporting increased rates of anxiety and depression, and rates of substance use and suicide are at unacceptable levels. The shared trauma brought on by the pandemic, a national reckoning around systemic racism, and our broken approach to mental health have all laid bare the need for change.
There are several problems that need to be addressed, but three urgent priorities that rise to the top for us are:
- Increasing access to life-saving care,
- Investing in prevention and early intervention in schools, and
- Ending the criminalization of mental illness and addiction.
In all three areas, the need is urgent, people are ready for action, and strategic leadership and courageous decision making will save lives in the future. Here’s how we will work together to advance policies and drive initiatives that will ultimately improve and save lives.
Keep reading to learn more about why we’re prioritizing these urgent areas.
Increasing Access to Care
To put it simply, there’s a huge treatment gap between those who need help and those who receive it. Less than half of the people in America who need treatment for mental health issues receive the care they need — that’s more than 26 million people left untreated. For those with health insurance, navigating the mental healthcare system can be confusing and services are often not included in coverage. For those without insurance coverage, access to mental health services can be financially out of reach, creating an additional barrier to seeking treatment.
For people of color, LGBTQ people, veterans, postpartum women, and Native Americans, the need for care can be even greater, so we’re working to make access to care more equitable as well.
Closing the treatment gap and increasing access to care includes addressing affordability, expanding insurance coverage, integrating mental health into primary care, and building a much bigger, culturally and linguistically competent workforce. We’ll pursue actions at the state and federal level, and engage with the Biden Administration to take executive actions that reform mental health policies and expand access.
Investing in Prevention & Early Intervention
Half of all mental illness presents before age 14. In 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for ages 12-18 and college-age youth. As the pandemic rages on, learning patterns are being disrupted for children of all ages, increasing social isolation and putting children at an increased risk with less access to support. In 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in emergency room visits for mental health reasons for kids aged 5 through 11 and more than a 30 percent increase for kids between ages 12 and 17. We need urgent investments in prevention and early intervention to give every child in America a chance for a hopeful, healthy future.
Comprehensive school mental health systems have been proven to create positive, nourishing school climates by ensuring students have access to support systems, and vital, age-appropriate mental health and well-being knowledge and skills from K-12. Investments in prevention and early intervention with children and adolescents will strengthen resiliency and create significant savings down the line.
We’re building a bold, multi-year campaign to bring a comprehensive approach to mental health to every school in America. We will work closely with federal and state government stakeholders to implement comprehensive school mental health systems by including more school counselors, mental health professionals, social and emotional learning curriculum, mental health literacy programs for students and teachers, regular mental health screenings, and more.
Stop Criminalizing Mental Illness & Addiction
Mental health and addiction are some of the only medical conditions that we routinely criminalize in the United States. A conservative estimate says 900,000 people with mental illness end up in our jails every year. To put that into perspective, the L.A. County Jail is the largest mental health provider in the country. That’s unacceptable.
We’re prioritizing treatment over punishment for people with mental illnesses and calling on lawmakers to develop a federal strategy for the decriminalization of mental health and reform of crisis response systems. And because calling 911 can too often turn a crisis into tragedy like in the Daniel Prude case, we will work with mental health and criminal justice reform advocates to support a robust system that prioritizes health and well-being.