Source: Fernando @cferdophotography/Unsplash
There is no question that the United States is in the throes of a mental health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported suicide attempts among girls have increased nearly 60 percent from just 10 years ago, and individuals with serious mental illness increasingly languish on the streets or in jail.
Currently, there is an ongoing shortage of funding for needed community-based treatment and supportive housing; the pipeline of mental health practitioners has not kept pace with rising demand; and few government officials are seeking to reform existing mental health laws that make it extremely challenging and frustrating for concerned family members to participate in care planning on behalf of loved ones with mental health conditions.
The scope of this unprecedented crisis requires that we think beyond awareness months. Though May—Mental Health Awareness Month—is now behind us, it’s time to commit ourselves as a country to developing solutions and creating funding sources to improve the lives of those impacted by mental illness.
While it’s true our nation faces countless competing priorities, it is imperative that mental health needs stay front and center. One only has to look in the eyes of desperate family members trying to ensure their struggling loved ones receive and stay in treatment to understand the stakes of the situation. More and more families are facing such crises, as I see every day in my mental health legal practice.
Bigger picture, today’s mental health emergency is not just impacting families but also communities, neighborhoods, and cities throughout the United States. Sharp increases in homelessness among individuals with mental illness have made many people feel that it is increasingly difficult to enjoy public spaces, especially in urban areas. This comes at a time when cities, and the businesses within them, need all the foot traffic they can to contend with the pandemic-induced shift to flexible work and related losses in revenue.
Fortunately, there’s real consensus surrounding this issue. At a time of incredible division and distrust, 79 percent of adults in the United States agree that the state of mental health in this country is a public health emergency that merits more attention from lawmakers, per the American Psychiatric Association. The organization’s 2022 poll also showed that 71 percent of respondents expressed a greater likelihood of voting for a political candidate who prioritizes investment in mental health.
Few large-scale problems can be met with simple solutions, yet key locales are making real progress in meeting today’s crisis with straightforward and practical fixes. In April, Seattle voters approved a ballot measure that substantially expands funding for mental health services by instituting a new tax on property owners. And this fall, a one-stop center for primary care and psychiatric services—funded through public and private sources—is scheduled to open in Miami to stop the revolving door between homelessness and jail.
Perhaps more of us would be able to help champion such solutions if we would only prioritize mental health awareness all 12 months of the year, meeting today’s crisis with the time and attention a life-or-death crisis requires.
It would be a start.