The US Senate Committee on Finance Is Moving Forward With Mental Health Reform

US capitol rotunda

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Key Takeaways

  • The US Senate Committee on Finance is meeting to review necessary mental health changes needed nationwide.
  • They are looking at areas such as strengthening the workforce and furthering the use of telehealth.
  • Stigma has caused mental health conversations and care to stall in the past.

Across America, leaders have long ignored mental health education, awareness, and care. This includes a lack of aid for youth who can often not advocate or seek treatment for themselves.

Even before the pandemic shocked the world, there was an increase in mental health problems in youth, such as depression. In a majority of cases, the person did not receive mental health treatment. The same was true for about one-quarter of adults. Part of this problem was attributed to a lack of health insurance coverage. 

With so many clear indicators of mental health care not being widely accessible—or effective even— the question is: What are America’s leaders going to do about it? 

Hope for a Bipartisan Mental Health Initiative

At least one department in the government is hoping to undertake a bipartisan overhaul of mental health in America. On February 8, the United States Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on protecting youth mental health care. 

“Imagine being a parent scrambling desperately to find help for your kid who’s in crisis—who may be a danger to themselves or somebody else. Too many parents are making call after call only to learn that there aren’t any beds available. Or that the waitlist to see a psychiatrist could be weeks or months long. Or they’re told that their insurance company won’t pay for the care a psychiatrist says their child needs,” said Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Committee on Finance Chairman, at the hearing. “Everybody in America must be able to get the mental health care they need when they need it.” 

The committee will focus on five areas to determine how they can improve the mental health care system:

  • Strengthening the workforce
  • Increasing integration, coordination, and access to care
  • Ensuring parity between behavioral and physical health care
  • Furthering the use of telehealth
  • Improving access to behavioral health care for children and young people

Each subject has two co-chairs, one republican and one democrat. 

Dr. Fanike-Kiara Olugbala Young, LCSW, DBH, a licensed trauma therapist

To change the way in which we do things as a nation, we must include those that are in the field and strive to make the necessary changes every day.

— Dr. Fanike-Kiara Olugbala Young, LCSW, DBH, a licensed trauma therapist

In a tweet from the same day, Wyden pointed to a harrowing statistic discussed during the hearing: On average, 11 years pass between first mental health symptoms and treatment beginning. 

The committee aims to present a bipartisan bill for improving mental health care this summer. 

Mental health professionals and advocates who are strong proponents for broader recognition of the importance of mental health care welcome the move. “Congress has a unique opportunity to enact lasting change when it comes to mental health reform,” says  Dr. Benjamin Miller, president of Well Being Trust and a nationally-recognized mental health policy expert. Last year, he spoke about mental health care to the Senate Committee on Finance. “We haven’t seen true large-scale, sweeping policy changes for mental health since the 1960s, and a lot has changed about our nation since then. We cannot wait for the next crisis or the next Congress to address rising levels of anxiety, depression, and substance use. Our friends, neighbors, and loved ones need Congress to act now while there is bipartisan support for the issue.”

The February 8 meeting was the first of many discussions around this issue. One week later, the committee held a second hearing to discuss youth mental health care, with Wyden laying out four critical points to keep in mind based on the prior discussion:

  • Mental health care must start much earlier
  • The country must have better crisis care
  • Solving these challenges is going to require creativity from the public and private sector
  • You cannot have mental health business as usual because business as usual is failing too many young people at every point

The Importance of Expanding Mental Health Policies

For starters, continual stigma has led to mental health issues being swept under the rug instead of clearly discussed. “There is a huge undereducation around mental and behavioral health. The furthering of the stigmas has led to mental health not being a priority for most of the population, including in legislation,” says Dr. Fanike-Kiara Olugbala Young, LCSW, a licensed trauma therapist and doctor of behavioral health. 

Olugbala Young also emphasizes the need for medical professionals trained in trauma-informed care. Otherwise, a patient may be re-traumatized — something she explains often happens in underserved and BIPOC populations.

"There should also be a focus on prevention, by investing more resources into mental health services and programs in schools and communities which would also help reduce the stigma around mental health,” says Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City.

Benjamin Miller, PsyD

Congress has a unique opportunity to enact lasting change when it comes to mental health reform.

— Benjamin Miller, PsyD

As for treatment methods, Romanoff cautions that, while telehealth has become widely used during the pandemic and is most likely here for good, it requires special consideration. “For example, efforts on expanding access to the internet and technology-based services, ensuring proper insurance reimbursement, and addressing privacy concerns will all be important aspects to include,” she says. 

For any of these initiatives, it’s critical that people on the ground — both mental health professionals and patients — are involved in the conversation. As Olugbala Young says, “To change the way in which we do things as a nation, we must include those that are in the field and strive to make the necessary changes every day.”

What This Means For You

Contact your leaders and the US Senate Committee on Finance to emphasize your want for mental health legislation.