Americans have been demanding improvements in mental health and addiction treatment access and insurance coverage for some time. While there’s no doubt that there has been progress, especially since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its insurance coverage mandates regarding mental health and substance abuse treatment, there are still many related issues that may affect how we vote in an election year.
Voters who pay attention to the issues surrounding mental health and substance abuse treatment may be aware of recently approved funding for popular federal legislative initiatives such as the State Opioid Grant, managed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Back in 2016, Congress passed a bill known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which also provides millions of dollars in support.
While these acts are noteworthy and have met with mostly welcome approval by members of both major political parties, some lament that these millions of dollars might be better spent on substance abuse prevention measures. Here, we’ll explore some of the top addiction and mental health issues to watch during the next election year.
Campaign Issues Related to Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Voters who care about substance abuse and mental health treatment have a number of issues to keep in mind before heading to the ballot box. As mentioned, issues related to prevention have gained in momentum. A case in point: the overprescribing of opioid painkillers in the U.S. and its link to the overdose epidemic that continues to impact individuals, their families, and communities.
While there have been significant efforts on the part of many state governments to more closely monitor prescription narcotics at the pharmacy level, (to curb doctor shopping in order to obtain more of the drug in question), many say that this isn’t enough. Some people feel that there should be more pressure on the medical community to stop prescribing so many opioids and other addictive drugs like stimulants and sedatives.
Substance Abuse Prevention in Schools
There has been a strong grassroots movement urging legislators at the federal and state levels to invest more in prevention, especially at the youth level, to not only effectively convey the dangers of alcohol and drugs but also to “build” more resilience in teens and young adults. By confronting the risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse early on, legislators may be able to reduce the development of substance use disorders.
Supporters of legislation designed to reduce addiction rates look to schools as the likeliest place to steer funding for nationwide measures. For instance, promoting the mental health of children with in-school programming that teaches healthy coping skills is one proposal. Still, others believe that addressing–and reducing–poverty is the best way to prevent substance abuse and some mental health disorders.
Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Bill
A lesser known bit of legislation that many voters may not know about is the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment bill that has been introduced in Congress. The bill seeks to address the shortage of mental health professionals.
Many people may have struggled to see their mental health care provider as soon as they would like. In some addiction treatment centers, the ratio of patients to therapists may be high, resulting in inadequate care. The mental health worker bill forgives student loan payments for those who work full-time in the mental healthcare profession. Unless this bill moves forward, the shortage of eligible mental health professionals may continue to impact mental health care nationwide.
Other More “Hot-Button” Issues Like Decriminalizing Mental Illness and Ending Conversion Therapy
There are also some hot-button issues to watch out for as the election season heats up. For example, The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) supports reversing policies that subject individuals to conversion therapy. NAMI takes the position that many conversion practices related to the LGBTQ community are harmful to mental health.
NAMI also supports an end to criminalization of people with mental health disorders. According to NAMI, about two out of every five people incarcerated has a history of mental illness, but many are incarcerated for committing non-violent crimes. Therefore, NAMI hopes to see public policies and laws removed that criminalize non-violent offenders who have a documented mental illness.
What’s at Stake?
For many voters today, it’s not only about what needs to be done on the substance abuse and mental health fronts. Many voters fear that legislative medical protections won with the ACA and other acts will be “undone” by legislators opposed to them. For instance, in 2017, multiple news outlets reported on proposed legislation that would cause more than 50 percent of women to be outpriced by insurance for some pre-existing conditions, including mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
In short, legislation that supports access and funding for mental health care and substance abuse treatment is not a perpetual guarantee, depending on new legislation and how legislators vote. Previous protections should not be taken for granted, because they can be reversed or rescinded with changing political winds.
The issues related to mental health care and substance abuse are complex, which is often why they are hotly debated. It should also be said that not only the last election but the recent COVID-19 pandemic have impacted both mental health and substance abuse in this country. The political divide that exists in the country has become deeper and, many believe, more entrenched. When the political turmoil spills over into families, mental health can certainly be impacted.
Do Legislative Proposals Go Far Enough?
Whether or not spending billions on drug abuse prevention or the decriminalization of mentally ill offenders goes far enough depends on who one asks. Many people believed that the ACA did not go far enough in its access measures. Others believe it went too far with its mandates. Voters who care about healthcare issues like mental health and substance addiction should listen to candidates when they speak about their issues or visit their websites to read about their platform and their specific plans regarding this or that legislation.
Pinning a candidate down one way or another on any particular issue can be difficult. Moreover, even a candidate with the most sincere intention to promote better substance abuse treatment or mental health care access could face so much opposition from the opposing party that they don’t achieve their goal. Even so, it’s never a waste to stay up-to-date on the issues that matter to you and voice your opinions. Once you determine what legislation you support regarding mental health and addiction treatment in this country, you can find out which candidates also share your views and support the same causes. Your vote matters. Exercise it!