SOTU: Mental Health Is Now a Federal Priority

On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden brought mental health to the forefront of the national conversation by addressing the country's current mental health crisis during his State of the Union. Speaking with an overarching theme of unity, Biden outlined his plan: to transform how mental health is understood, treated, accessed and integrated into healthcare settings through three main pillars.

Strengthening Capacity

Biden’s first pillar focuses on strengthening the healthcare system capacity, which is experiencing a shortage of behavioral health providers.

A White House statement notes, “We must dramatically expand the supply, diversity, and cultural competency of our mental health and substance use disorder workforce – from psychiatrists to psychologists, peers to paraprofessionals – and increase both opportunity and incentive for them to practice in areas of highest need.”

The plan to achieve this goal includes:

  • Investing $700 million in programs that provide training and access to scholarships
  • Awarding $225 million in training programs to community health workers in underserved communities
  • Signing the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act into law, which will invest $135 million over three years to trainproviders on suicide prevention and behavioral health in order to promote the mental health of frontline workiers and mitigate burnout
  • Allocating nearly $700 million toward the staffing and support of the “988” crisis response line, to be launched in the summer of 2022, and create a national network of community–based crisis centers
  • Expanding Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics into communities that need them most
  • Creating a national certification for peer specialists: aimed at increasing adoption, recognition and integration of the mental health workforce into all aspects of the healthcare system
  • Investing $5 million into researching future treatments for mental health conditions

Connecting to Care

The second pillar is designed to create better pathways to care for Americans with mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

To fulfill this pledge, the administration’s 2023 fiscal year budget will:

  • Propose that all health insurances plans cover behavioral health services, including three behavioral health visits per year
  • Double the funding for primary and behavioral health integration programs, giving primary care providers the tools to identity, treat and manage behavioral health and substance use conditions
  • Work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove the barriers veterans face in getting same-day access to mental health and substance use care
  • Work with Congress to ensure telebehavioral health care is covered across insurance plans and state lines
  • Propose $1 billion to help schools and colleges hire more counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals
  • Budget $50 million to integrate mental health services into libraries, community centers, schools homeless shelters and more
  • Create easy-to-use digital resources for finding treatment, including a revamped federal website and a new online resource via the Department of Defense for service members and their families

Creating Healthy Environments

The final pillar addresses the harms of social media, particularly among children and adolescents, and identifies how Americans can create societal change by expanding prevention programs and enhancing recovery-focused programs.

To create this change, the administration will:

  • Call on Congress to help protect childrens’ privacy by limiting the amount of data that can be collected and used for targeted advertising online
  • Call for algorithmically enhanced systems and platforms to end discriminatory practices that can negatively affect and target kids
  • Dedicate a minimum of $5 million toward researching the harms and pitfalls of social media, and identify interventions to address it
  • Invest $70 million in infant and early childhood mental health programs; continue funding the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program through the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Call on Americans to become tutors and mentors who can help children recover from the trauma of COVID-19 and provide support in educational settings, while increasing funding for school-based programs that support children with disabilitiesProvide funding for behavioral health care, family services and other transitional programming for adults exiting incarceration
  • Train social and human services professionals – including housing counselors and field employees who serve farmers and ranchers – in basic mental health skills

This announcement comes in the wake of rising grief, trauma, isolation, anxiety and depression among people of all ages as a result of COVID-19. While rates of mental health conditions were increasing even before the onset of the pandemic, Biden’s announcement comes at an inflection point: a time when many people are “near a breaking point” and far more resources are needed to ensure that everyone has access to care.

In response to the Biden-Harris Administration's strategy, Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center Chief Medical Officer and Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Anne Marie O'Melia stated, "As a clinician, community member, colleague, friend and family member, I am heartened that President Biden has acknowledged this country's unprecedented mental health crisis. We know all too well the ways in which our patients, particularly youth, have been impacted in the past few years. We appreciate the commitment to not only execute a stronger mental health strategy, but also connect more Americans to care and provide a continuum of care and support."

If you, a loved one or a client is experiencing a mental illness, we want you to know that there is hope. You are not alone, and we are here to offer complimentary resources, weekly support groups and comprehensive virtual and on-site treatment options that can help you find lasting healing.