How You Can Influence Mental Health in America

| Kathleen Kiernan

 

In addition to being Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949. As someone who struggles with depression and has ADHD, this month is very important to me. I have experienced first-hand how having access to therapy, medication, community, and other resources has helped improve my overall mental health and well-being. And as someone who wants everyone to know the impact government has in your life and wants to see more women in government, I’m excited to share more about the impact of elected offices on mental health resources.

 

Did you know the federal government can pass laws and protections surrounding mental health and support funding and research for mental health?

The federal government plays a direct role in addressing mental health in America. Congress can pass a variety of laws and protections that have a massive impact on mental health. Examples of laws that have been passed include the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MPHAEA), which ensures equal coverage of treatment for mental illness and addiction, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability. A law that’s currently being considered is the Mental Health Services for Students Act which would provide funding for public schools across the country to partner with local mental health professionals to establish on-site mental health care services for students. 

The federal government also plays a role in funding services for mental health treatment like programs that fall under Medicaid and also provides Mental Health Block Grants (MHBG) that support states in building out their community mental health services. The federal government also provides funding for research related to mental health, suicide prevention, addiction treatment, and other aspects of mental health which contributes to our overall understanding of mental health, how issues can be treated, and how communities and individuals can be supported.

 

Did you know your state legislature regularly passes laws and protections regarding mental health?

According to Mental Health America National, “States have significant power in making decisions about their mental health systems so mental health regulations and available services can look very different from state to state and even from county to county.” They also have the freedom to expand upon what the federal government has done and experiment with new and innovative services for mental health.

Like the federal government, states pass laws and protections regarding mental health, provide funding for services, and support research. For example, in 2019, Maine passed a law that prohibits the provision of conversion therapy to minors by certain licensed professionals and Washington State just announced it is rolling out $4.5 million in grants that will help more than 50,000 kids spend nearly 1.5 million hours outside, which significantly helps improve kids mental health.

 

Did you know your county and city play a pivotal role in mental health resource access?

Your county government can also play a huge role in mental health resource access. According to the National Association of Counties, “Counties annually invest $100 billion in community health systems, including behavioral health services. In 40 states plus the District of Columbia, there is at least one mental health facility operated by a regional/district authority or county, local or municipal government…Through 750 behavioral health authorities and community providers, county governments plan and operate community-based services for persons with mental illnesses and substance abuse conditions.”

Similarly city councils can impact mental health resource access and effectiveness by establishing task forces to assess current services and make suggestions for improvements, reallocate funding towards mental health services, re-examine plans to respond to mental health emergencies, and approve or disapprove of new mental health facilities

 

Did you know YOU can play a significant role in mental health policy in America?

If you’re passionate about mental health access and policy, you should consider running for office. As you can see, from Congress to City Council, every part of government touches the way mental health is dealt with in America — who it serves, how it’s implemented, how well it’s funded, and its future state. If you’re not quite ready to run for office, but you still want to be involved, we encourage you to join the She Should Run Community where you can hear from other women who care about mental health and have found ways to make changes in their communities.