Take stock of mental health

Q: What are your most recent efforts in Congress to strengthen access to mental health care?

A: American society continues to make strides in reducing the stigma long associated with mental illness. We have more work to do to raise awareness and expand access to behavioral health services so that people with mental health issues can receive treatment and be on the road to recovery. As a federal policymaker, I worked to help remove the stigma of mental illness, particularly among farmers, veterans, new mothers, and first responders, and advance measures to expand access to mental health services. In 2020, I led bipartisan approval Sowing Rural Resilience Law to help curb the rising suicide rate in Rural America and pressured the Biden administration to implement the law. The law directed the USDA to establish a voluntary stress management program to train frontline workers to help detect stress among the farmers they do business with. More than 95% of USDA employees at the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center have completed their training to carry out this important mission. As then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I helped make mental telehealth services a permanent Medicare benefit. I recognized the importance of this service for seniors, especially those living in rural areas who would otherwise have to drive hours to see a mental health professional in person. In my longstanding efforts to improve maternal health care in Rural America, I reintroduced the bipartisanHealthy mothers and babies law to improve maternal care for mothers and newborns. This includes the use of telehealth and community-based care efforts to improve access to care for mental and substance use disorders. Earlier this year, I reintroduced legislation to help police, firefighters, emergency physicians and 911 personnel deal with the stress they incur when responding to crisis situations. OPost Traumatic Stress Disorder Act would establish mental health programs for first responders in communities of all sizes. More recently, I joined legislation to ensure the Biden administration is following Congress’ intent on a federal law I supported called the MISSION law 2018. It is designed to ensure timely access by veterans to non-VA providers. Last year, I pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs for answers after listening to Iowa veterans frustrated with bureaucracy and long waiting lines to get community care. O Protecting the Veterancommunity care law focuses on veterans’ access to inpatient mental health and requires the VA to report to Congress on how veterans are using the community care program.

Q: Why is it important to raise awareness and speak openly about mental wellbeing?

A: Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May to promote education and advocacy for our countrymen affected by mental illness. Many people manage their challenges in silence, dealing with depression, anxiety, loneliness and hopelessness without a support system to help ease the burden. In communities and families across the country, loved ones and neighbors fight these battles alone. For a long time, the stigma associated with mental illness prevented people from sharing their feelings with others or seeking medical attention. That’s why I continue my efforts to reduce stigma and remove barriers to care. This includes paving the way for health professionals in rural areas, including mental health professionals. I supported legislation enacted in 2020 that increased funding for rural residency training and expanded Medicare-funded placements to an additional 1,000 graduate residency placements. The first 200 slots were announced earlier this year, with three-quarters of the slots dedicated to primary care and mental health specialties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 adults live with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health impacts productivity at work and school, affecting daily life and quality of life. Recent studies show the detrimental impact of school closures and pandemic-related isolation on millions of Americans, particularly young people. The CDC says that more than 1 in 5 young people (ages 13 to 18) currently have or have experienced a seriously debilitating mental illness. Additionally, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds and 20- to 34-year-olds. I encourage Iowans to break the silence and nagging embarrassment linked to mental illness. The US Surgeon General recently issued a statement stating that the US is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Talk to your children. Keep the lines of communication open with your friends and loved ones. Seeking treatment is the first step to recovery.

If you know someone who is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org. For veterans or service members, you may also contact the Veterans Crisis Line by texting 838255. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Line provides free, confidential, 24/7 support answered by a trained professional.

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