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Growing Concerns about Nation’s Mental Health Care

5 Takeaways from today’s HELP Hearing to reform nation’s behavioral health system

February 01, 2022

The nation’s behavioral health leaders are warning of a growing mental health crisis that has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hosted a hearing about the ways to improve treatment for people with mental health and substance use disorders. Behavioral health reform starts with recognizing how physical and mental health work together, and establishing strategies to connect people with care, the panel of experts said.

“It’s time to create a mental health system that reflects the 21st century, and we have no time to waste,” said Mitch Prinstein, PhD, ABPP, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association.

Among the takeaways from today’s hearing:

  • By the numbers:  Only one in seven Americans with a mental health or substance use disorder is receiving treatment, Dr. Prinstein said
  • Improving access to care:  Dedicated strategies are needed to connect patients with treatment in their community. Without targeted strategies, patients may face a revolving cycle of care in their local emergency department
  • Benefits from flexibilities:  Recent pandemic-era flexibilities, such as increased access to telehealth, have allowed more patients to receive treatment for their behavioral health needs
  • Areas for reform:  Behavioral health care should begin long before a patient is in a crisis situation or requires inpatient/outpatient treatment. The panelists also identified prior authorization as an obstacle to timely care
  • ‘Silos in care’:  The network of providers for substance use and mental health treatment can feel disjointed as patients move from one specialist to the next. Integrating care requires cross-training across specialties

“We see often that people get lost because they go from one provider to another trying to get the treatment they need and deserve, and they can’t find one provider to do all of those things,” said Michelle P. Durham, MD, MPH, FAPA, DFAACAP, vice chair of education, department of psychiatry and clinical associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, Boston Medical Center.

HAP continues to engage with members around policy solutions to address the behavioral health crisis. HAP has developed a set of behavioral health policy recommendations to increase capacity and ensure patients are treated in the right setting for care. HAP will be working with state and federal lawmakers to advance targeted recommendations.

Additionally, through the HAP Opioid Learning Action Network, HAP has worked with Pennsylvania’s behavioral health community to identify, create, and disseminate promising practices to increase the number of patients entering evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder and to reduce overdose deaths.

A replay of today’s hearing is available online.

For more information, contact Jennifer Jordan, HAP’s vice president, regulatory advocacy.