In U.S. President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union, he will outline a unity agenda. A strategy to address the national mental health crisis is part of the White House’s unity agenda.
The state of mental health globally
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that “there can be no health or sustainable development without mental health.”
Despite the importance of mental health and some progress, it remains under-prioritized in many countries. According to the WHO’s 2020 Mental Health Atlas, only 25% of the organization’s members have integrated mental health into their health care systems. This translates to 280 million people worldwide with depression not having diagnosis, treatment and care.
While the burden is worse in low and middle income countries, even in high income nations such as the U.S. there is a heavy toll on people due to lack of mental health support.
- 57% of Americans with a mental illness are not treated.
- One-third of those who do manage to get treatment still fear being stigmatized by friends, co-workers or others.
The trauma from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has deepend the mental health issues globally. A Lancet study found that areas that experienced the worst virus outbreaks had large increases in depression and anxiety.
That is why it is important for organizations and government bodies to join together and promote evidence-based, cost-effective, widely accessible mental health solutions. The Strategy to Address the National Mental Health Crisis in U.S. president Biden’s unity agenda aims to address mental health issues holistically and equitably.
The state of mental health in the U.S.
The U.S. is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages.
- Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression.
- Black and Brown communities are disproportionately undertreated – even as their burden of mental illness has continued to rise.
- Rates of depression and anxiety were increasing even before the pandemic. The grief, trauma, and physical isolation of the last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have driven Americans to a breaking point.
Young Americans are specifically affected by mental health struggles. The pandemic has negatively impacted their routines and relationships leading to more social isolation, anxiety, and learning loss.
- More than half of parents express concern over their children’s mental well-being.
- An early study found that students are about five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, compared with students prior to the pandemic.
- In 2019, one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an overall increase of 40% from 2009.
- Emergency department visits for attempted suicide have risen 51% among adolescent girls.
Social media platforms and companies worsen young people’s mental health
Social media platforms and companies are deepening the youth mental health crisis. There is growing evidence that social media is harming children and young people’s mental health, well-being, and development. As the White House fact sheet points out social media platforms have been conducting a national experiment on children and using their data to keep them clicking.
There are grave negative consequances to social media platforms using children’s data and targeting them. Unhealthy commodity industries, such as Big Alcohol, are using these platforms to market harmful products to children, normalize the use of such products, for example promoting heavy and binge alcohol use. This increases chances of early initiation of alcohol use and a plethora of negative consequences affecting brain development, mental and physical health issues, social problems in later life and even increased risk of premature death.
President Biden’s State of the Union on addressing the national mental health crisis will call on Congress to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, and demand technology companies stop collecting personal data on our children.
Unity Agenda’s Strategy to Address the National Mental Health Crisis
Building on the American Rescue Plan, the National Mental Health Strategy aims to transform mental health in the U.S. in and out of care settings. The strategy has three key components:
- Strengthen system capacity
- Connect more Americans to care
- Create a continuum of support
Following are the individual actions under each of the three key components. In bold are the actions addressing the role alcohol and other drugs play in the mental health crisis.
Strengthen System Capacity
- Invest in proven programs that bring providers into behavioral health.
- Pilot new approaches to train a diverse group of paraprofessionals.
- Build a national certification program for peer specialists.
- Promote the mental well-being of our frontline health workforce.
- Launch the “988” crisis response line and strengthen community-based crisis response.
- Expand the availability of evidence-based community mental health services.
- Invest in research on new practice models.
Connect Americans to Care
- Expand and strengthen parity.
- Integrate mental health and substance use treatment into primary care settings.
- Improve veterans’ access to same-day mental health care.
- Expand access to tele- and virtual mental health care options.
- Expand access to mental health support in schools and colleges and universities.
- Embed and co-locate mental health and substance use providers into community-based settings.
- Increase behavioral health navigation resources.
Support Americans by Creating Healthy Environments
- Strengthen children’s privacy and ban targeted advertising for children online.
- Institute stronger online protections for young people, including prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services.
- Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision-making that limits opportunities for young Americans.
- Invest in research on social media’s mental health harms.
- Expand early childhood and school-based intervention services and supports.
- Set students up for success.
- Increase mental health resources for justice-involved populations.
- Train social and human services professionals in basic mental health skills.
The complete White House Fact sheet on the strategy can be accessed here.