WASHINGTON, D.C. – Doctors told U.S. Senators in a committee meeting mental health and substance abuse were issues long before the pandemic but COVID has certainly made this issue a lot worse. In that hearing, doctors and advocates said Congress needs to do more to resolve the mental health crisis.
In a Senate committee, the focus was on solving our nation’s mental health and substance abuse problems. “This is an issue that began well before the pandemic with millions of Americans experiencing emotional and behavioral symptoms we could have prevented,” said Mitch Prinstein with the American Psychological Association. “The U.S. has faired more poorly than most with a rate of suicide attempts higher than any other wealthy nation on the planet.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 48 million people used illicit drugs in 2019, compared to just 25 million people in 2002. A doctor with the APA said in 2021 alone, children’s hospitals saw a 42 percent increase in self-injury cases.
“The alarm are 10 and 11 year-olds who are suffering,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- AK).
Senator Bob Casey (D- PA) was concerned about plans of safe care, which is a non-punitive approach to help infants and families impacted by substance abuse, receive treatment.
“Despite longstanding federal law, plans of safe care remain very much underutilized,” said Sen. Casey.
He questions what can be done to help families who need of support during and after pregnancy.
“Having that universal screening earlier and referral to treatment for everyone earlier in pregnancy and often in pregnancy really minimizes prenatal substance exposure,” said Sara Goldsby with the South Carolina Dept. Of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.
Doctors said the pandemic contributed to mental health issues but there’s not enough mental health workers to meet the growing demand. A high school student said more can be done in the classroom to help kids.
“We need to support school counselors station social workers in schools,” said Claire Ryneer, a mental health youth advocate. “Fund wellness programs at universities and introduce mental health curriculum in schools where they belong.”
Members on both sides of the aisle said more has to be done to address this. Some even suggested more legislation or even funding can help relieve this issue.