Increasing Access to Mental Health Services

Ed. Note: This is a cross post from HHS.gov. You can find the original post here.

America has come a long way in talking about mental health, yet we are still a country that too often confines mental health and addiction to the far edges of our discourse. We cannot ignore the fact that 60 percent of people with mental health conditions and nearly 90 percent of people with substance use disorders don’t receive the care they need. That is why the Affordable Care Act is so important to mental health. The health care law, along with previous parity legislation, will expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections for 62 million Americans.

To continue these efforts, President Obama announced key steps earlier this year to make it easier for individuals struggling with mental health problems to get the help they need. And now, the President’s Budget will deliver on these commitments.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget includes a critical $205 million investment in programs to help identify mental health concerns early, improve access to mental health services and support safer school environments. And, it invests $30 million in tools and research that will expand our understanding of gun violence prevention, including key mental health issues.

The budget supports initiatives to help teachers and other adults identify early signs of mental health problems and refer young people to services they may need, and to advance new state-based strategies to prevent young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse problems from falling through the cracks when they leave home. The budget will help 8,000 schools implement evidence-based behavioral practices to improve school climate and behavioral outcomes for all students. The budget invests in training more than 5,000 mental health professionals such as master's level social workers and psychologists. Together with doctorate-level psychiatrists, family practitioners, and other health care providers, these providers play a critically important role in serving our youth with mental health problems. The budget also invests in public health research on gun violence prevention and an expansion of our public health data on homicides and suicides to help inform prevention strategies.

The President’s budget builds on the historic advances we have made to close the gaps that left too many Americans with behavioral health problems uninsured and underinsured. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will provide access to quality health care that includes coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services. All new small group and individual private market plans will be required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services as part of the health care law's Essential Health Benefits categories, and behavioral health benefits will be covered at parity with medical and surgical benefits. Also in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny anyone coverage because of a pre-existing behavioral health condition. The Affordable Care Act has already ensured that new health plans cover recommended preventive benefits without cost sharing, including depression screening for adults and adolescents and behavioral assessments for children.

People will only benefit from the progress we’ve made if services are available and if those who need help aren’t afraid to seek it. That’s why the President has asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and me to start a national dialogue to increase awareness about mental health and reduce the fear, shame, and misperceptions that too often prevent people from getting the help they need.

All of us – community leaders, advocates, teachers, faith leaders, health providers, parents, neighbors, and friends – have a role to play in spreading the message that it’s okay to talk about mental health. We can encourage people to seek help if they are struggling, and we can reach out and assist a struggling friend or loved one in finding help when needed. We can let them know that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people do recover.

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