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House Committee Holds Hearing on COVID-19 and Mental Health

On Thursday, March 11, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services held a hearing on “COVID-19 and the Mental Health and Substance Use Crises”.

Members of the Committee heard from four expert witnesses on how the pandemic has affected mental health and substance abuse: Arthur Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association (a member of FABBS); Dr. Lisa Amaya-Jackson, Co-Director of the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress; Verna Faust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma; and Mark Stringer, Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Witnesses represented diverse backgrounds in mental health policy, treatment, and research; their analysis and recommendations reflected a consensus on the challenges posed by the pandemic and the interventions necessary to overcome them. Specifically, the witnesses agreed on the importance of:

  • Encouraging widespread adoption of evidence-based treatments and interventions
  • Increasing access to telehealth in order to drastically improve access to care
  • Supporting the mental health workforce
  • Investing in research to better understand the effects of the pandemic and identify effective treatments and interventions

Members of Congress’ questions focused in on two additional key areas – the unique mental health effects of COVID-19 on children and minority mental health disparities that have been exacerbated by pandemic conditions.

In one such exchange, Mr. Stringer gave the example of efforts to simultaneously improve access to care in drastically different communities: in this case urban, majority African American communities in St. Louis, as compared to rural, largely white communities in Northeastern Missouri. Stringer emphasized the need for flexibility and funding to implement different strategies where they are most effective, as well as increased research to better identify effective and targeted approaches. Additionally, witnesses agreed that programs focused on increasing diversity in the mental health workforce pipeline are key to ensuring equitable health outcomes.

The Committee expressed bipartisan recognition that the mental health repercussions of COVID-19 will not be short lived and that additional research is necessary to fully understand and respond to them. They showed interest in continued discussion of long-term investments and reforms to improve mental health access and treatments, especially for children and minority communities, in the wake of the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan, which passed on March 10 and was reported on in the March 11 newsletter, provided $1.75 billion to mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention. However, the $1.9 trillion package did not include funding for research on this issue. Members of Congress recently introduced bipartisan legislation to fund additional research into the unique mental health impacts resulting from the pandemic.

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