By NEW YORK CITY FIRST LADY CHIRLANE MCCRAY AND DELPHINE GERVAIS, LCSW
In 2016, mental illness and substance misuse, especially in underserved communities, remains a major issue, affecting one in five people and millions of families across America. Yet these issues, most often overlapping, are too often misunderstood, ignored, underfunded, and viewed as a source of shame.
To compound the problem, mental health professionals have been forced to become experts in juggling clients, HMO’s, Medicaid and Medicare. The workforce is bandied about by bureaucracy, stretched thin trying to meet the needs of a large population, and does not always have the cultural competency that would help people feel comfortable about receiving services. In a landscape that too often demonizes people living with emotional challenges, it is important to have services that are easy to navigate, easy to pay for and easy to get to.
Hillary Clinton’s mental health policy agenda, released last month, affirms that mental health deserves the same attention as physical health. By envisioning a health care delivery system that considers the “whole person,” her agenda encourages an environment where medical and mental health professionals could focus less on reactive care and more on keeping people mentally healthy. It would create a cohesive system, not bogged down by red tape and inconsistent service. The proposed policy would also launch a national initiative to prevent suicides, a problem that particularly affects Florida, as suicide is now the third leading cause of death among young Floridians. This would mean more school social workers to develop wide-ranging initiatives that promote healthy coping skills, and more Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselors.
Clinton’s plan would also create more mental health resources at schools and on college campuses. One in four college students cope with mental health problems; seventeen million children are coping with mental illnesses. With brains that are not fully developed until age 24, young people are not always fully aware and understanding of their emotions. Young people often go years without treatment, wondering if they will ever get the support they need to live a full life.
Clinton’s plan will also improve our criminal justice system. We ask police officers to do too much with too little training. Training law enforcement officers to recognize trauma and to intervene in crisis will help low-level offenders get treatment, and keep those who would be better served with mental health care out of jail and out of the legal system.
Many of the approaches in Clinton’s mental health policy agenda are proving successful in New York City, which last year launched ThriveNYC, the nation’s most comprehensive effort to address untreated mental illness and substance misuse. Clinton’s policy agenda would take this comprehensive approach nationwide, revolutionizing mental health and substance misuse treatment in the U.S. and finally giving this public health crisis the attention it deserves.
Strategies like intervening early before illnesses become more serious, and integrating mental health care into primary settings are cornerstones of both and have the potential to dramatically improve how we address mental illness in this country. There is finally a national, comprehensive, mental health policy agenda that can normalize the everyday experiences of so many of our country’s citizens. We are encouraged to know that people will one day walk into an office and as confidently request the services of a mental health clinician as they would a cardiologist or an internist.
We are encouraged to know that our neighborhood police officers will have more tools available to them that can inspire hope and not fear. We are encouraged to know that every citizen of this country, will be able to access affordable and equitable services that will meet the needs of their whole self.