New bipartisan effort to expand mental health access nationwide

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More people than ever are struggling with their mental health, and there just aren’t enough doctors to help everyone.

During the pandemic, drug overdoses and suicide attempts have also spiked as well and that’s sparked a new bipartisan effort to improve mental health services nationwide.

This new Senate report shows access to mental health support is a major issue nationwide. It revealed that more than half of people who need mental health care don’t get it with even higher rates for those in minority communities.

Some therapists say they’re having a hard time keeping up with the increased demand for mental health services.

“A lot of times, therapists are overextending themselves, and they’re burning themselves out and that reduces their quality of care that they’re able to give someone,” said Rwenshaun Miller, psychotherapist in Charlotte, NC.

The bipartisan report shows more than two-thirds of behavioral health providers had to turn people away over the last few months.

Miller is one of them. He said his waiting list has more than 40 people on it.

“Especially for me, as a black male therapist, they’re far and few between. And so, if someone is calling into the office, and they’re reaching out, and we tell them that we have a waiting list, they’re like, well, who can you refer me to? Honestly, I don’t have anyone that I can refer you to,” said Miller.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are discussing new legislation to address those racial disparities, close gaps in access to care and improve access to resources through Medicare and Medicaid.

One potential solution includes expanding telehealth.

“It’s definitely needed because it increases the accessibility to individuals that may not be able to assess a therapist right there in their own county or their own city,” said Miller.

There’s also a push to expand collaborative care models which would add behavioral health staffing to primary care offices.

“Upwards of 70 percent of mental health conditions can be treated successfully with the same or better outcomes as specialty care and primary care with those two supports,” said Dr. Andy Keller, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

This report also suggests expanding scholarship and educational programs to diversify the mental health workforce.