APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, urged Congress to take a public health approach to addressing the mental health crisis and substance use epidemic in a July 14 briefing hosted by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and Well Being Trust. The briefing for Capitol Hill staff centered on the organizations’ most recent Pain in the Nation report, which describes the heavy and growing toll of alcohol, drugs, and suicide on individuals and communities grappling with multiple crises at the same time — challenges that were magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that drug overdose deaths are rising sharply among Black and Indigenous people in the United States and are highest in areas with high income inequality. The overdose crisis began long before COVID-19, as did the mental health crisis, which is particularly acute among children and adolescents. In his presentation, Evans discussed the intractable link between these crises and suicide, now compounded by the profound, negative impact of COVID-19 on our connections to family, friends, and our communities, which has led to widespread loneliness and social isolation.
Evans declared that “we cannot treat our way out of th[ese crises]” and centered his remarks on the need for a public health approach that provides prevention and early intervention services for those most at risk, as well as quality care for individuals with a diagnosis.
Evans also stressed the importance of meeting children and adults where they are—including in schools, primary-care settings, and employment centers—and delivering the “upstream services” that improve protective factors and diminish risk factors that contribute to poor outcomes. This is especially needed in communities of color and underserved areas where services and providers are severely limited, and where social determinants of health play an outsize role in access to services.
Evans ended by laying out several themes, such as building capacity for the mental health workforce, promoting integration of primary care and behavioral health, ensuring parity for behavioral and physical health care, promoting health equity, for any mental health/behavioral health package that Congress may produce in the months to come.
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