No matter who you are or where you come from, every American is in some way impacted by mental illness. And yet, for so long, families who are suffering have been left without options. There are children in this country battling mental illness who have no treatment or care at all. We have counties in this country without a single practicing psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker.
As a Member of the Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee and a long-time champion of mental health, I have heard the stories of many families affected by mental illness and witnessed the tragic consequences of communities not having access to adequate mental health treatments and care.
I truly believe that together, we can turn those stories of despair into stories of hope. It’s what drives my work to fix our broken system.
If we are going to change the trajectory of mental health care in this country, it’s going to take long term investments in care.
California has already started that investment; expanding Medi-Cal, to cover over 9 million Californians. Medicaid is the single largest payer for mental health services in California and in the United States, and the program must be protected and strengthened. We also need to build on the momentum of the Affordable Care Act to ensure that we don’t return to a time when having a mental illness is a pre-existing condition that prevents you from accessing the care you need.
Finally, we must continue making investments in prevention. When we bolster preventive services, we strengthen the whole spectrum of mental health care, including treatment and crisis care.
We have taken some important steps over the last few years to shed light on the importance of mental health reform, but much work remains.
Here in California, and across the country, we need to treat mental illness and substance use disorders as physical diseases. That means we need to integrate care and services for individuals with mental illness and treat the whole person – both body and mind.
We cannot have a truly integrated system, with the care coordination we envision, if behavioral health providers don’t have electronic health records. We must work to harness the power of technology to improve the accessibility of behavioral health treatment, particularly in under-served communities.
I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for the mental health community during my time in Congress, by working to improve our treatment programs and spread awareness and education about mental health. I believe we need to mental health at all places along its spectrum, from prevention and early intervention to treatment and management of severe mental illness.