Midterm Elections Offer Opportunity to Advance Mental Health Care

From the CEO

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

Social workers know mental health is a growing concern in the United States as the toll of COVID-19 and widespread economic anxieties becomes increasingly clear. With record levels of opioid overdoses — alongside spikes in eating disorders, rising suicide rates, and incredibly prolonged mental health emergency room visits for children — the demand for mental health services has been intensifying.

Despite the increasing need — and the fact that the NASW-championed Improving Access to 
Mental Health legislation has bipartisan support — very few policymakers have made mental health a major focus of their 2022 campaigns. Mental health is an issue that makes most politicians uncomfortable and one they would rather not talk about. As the 2022 midterm elections draw near, we must hold policymakers accountable for advancing our nation’s mental health care, especially for 
at-risk populations.

Throughout NASW’s history, we have been leaders in shaping legislation, securing increased funding, and promoting research to improve mental health care. In the last 12 months alone, social work advocates sent hundreds of thousands of emails to Capitol Hill and made countless phone calls and visits to their representatives in nationwide efforts to pass mental health reform and to stop dangerous reform proposals that would have hurt people with 
mental illness.

Social workers have an opportunity in the 2022 midterm elections to help vote more mental health champions into office. Elected officials from all levels of government play a role in determining what services and supports are available to people with mental illness. Social workers must be instrumental in helping raise candidates’ awareness of mental health issues by sharing statistics and stories that help make these issues and their human impact real. We must engage in conversations that seek to educate politicians and develop trusting relationships on both sides of the aisle. 

When speaking with a candidate — in addition to communicating how important mental health care is to you — give them an opportunity to reveal their thoughts and share their visions for improving mental health care. The aim is to identify whether a candidate is a mental health champion.

Mental health champions support policies that increase the availability of mental health services and supports, promote early intervention for mental health care, end the jailing of people with mental illness, foster integrated care, increase reimbursement rates and support the mental health workforce, and strengthen enforcement for existing parity laws.

On July 31, John Oliver in his “Last Week Tonight” program on HBO discussed mental health care in America. He raised awareness about the cracks in our broken mental health care system and some of the inadequate ways we’ve tried to address them. He underscores that until mental health care becomes a national priority, our mental health care system that should be preventing, identifying, and skillfully treating those who are mentally ill will continue to be woefully inadequate.

As a profession, we must use our enormous power to solve America’s mental health crisis. The midterms offer the opportunity to amplify our collective voice on behalf of people who depend on the mental health system to help them be functional members of society.

Contact Angelo McClain at naswceo@socialworkers.org

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