The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health in our country — from anxiety to depression to suicide — will require a robust response from federal, state and local officials.
As the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas has reminded us, this pandemic is not going away any time soon; as we struggle to get cases under control, the impact on mental health likely increases.
Even if we were to see a sudden decrease in positive tests, the effects on our mental health would continue. As the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute warned in a recent analysis, rates of mental illness are likely to increase over time, given that most mental-health impacts of trauma manifest 60 to 90 days following exposure to traumatic events.
And importantly, experts warn of the social and emotional effect on children who have been separated from classmates and teachers, including the very educators who are often the first to notice when a child has been abused at home.
The response we need to the ongoing challenge in mental health will require both resources and innovation. Fortunately, this is not a partisan issue. During my time as speaker of the Texas House and since I left that office almost two years ago, mental health has been one of our state’s greatest areas of bipartisan achievement and advancement.
Our state, hardly known for profligate spending, has expanded access to services, began construction on state-of-the-art mental health facilities, advanced telemedicine and ensured that health plans treat mental health conditions on par with any other health condition. Last year, the Legislature made targeted advancements in mental-health services at schools, which will prove especially critical in the months ahead.
Texans recognize mental health is an issue that affects our well-being, our children’s ability to learn, public safety and our economic productivity.
In Washington, the coronavirus relief bills already signed into law by President Donald Trump make significant health care funding available. Federal waivers have made telehealth services easier to access than ever before. But there is more to be done.
In May, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called on the Trump administration to ensure that proper relief funding goes to mental health and substance use disorder providers. A survey by the National Council for Behavioral Health projected that community behavioral health organizations alone are projected to lose an estimated $38.5 billion in revenue due to the pandemic.
Providers are cautiously optimistic that the administration will act soon and prevent the loss of provider capacity.
Employers and health plans also have roles. They must make it easier for patients to access providers by integrating mental health into primary care, expanding telehealth availability, and ensuring parity in how insurance treats mental health issues. Virtual care is especially important as the virus continues to spread.
Americans desperately need mental-health care, and making it available is in employers’ interest. Illnesses such as anxiety and depression can sap the enthusiasm and innovative spirit of entrepreneurs, business leaders and workers, making it more difficult for our country to fully recover.
There is support in both parties for proactively addressing the mental-health conditions that affect millions of Americans. But it requires investment and bold thinking.
Joe Straus served as speaker of the Texas House from 2009 to 2019 and is now chairman of the Texas Forever Forward PAC.