Murray Leads Hearing On Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Crises Worsened by COVID-19
Senator Murray on mental health crises: “Healing the scars of this pandemic won’t be quick or easy—this will take years, and we must act accordingly.”
***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing on the need to address the mental health and substance use disorder crises which have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray stressed the need for action to support students, providers, and families struggling through these crises.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation was facing mental health and substance use disorder challenges on multiple fronts. Millions of people experienced depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, drug overdoses were on the rise, and our health workforce was stretched far too thin… If we just keep stretching without taking action—something is going to break,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “Even if we aren’t personally struggling with mental health or substance use, we all have friends and family who are—whether we realize it or not. We all rely on first responders, health care providers, teachers, and other frontline professionals who are facing burnout and trauma. We all have a stake in making sure people can get the help they need.”
During her remarks, Senator Murray noted how COVID-19 has worsened already troubling mental health and substance use disorder challenges—including rising opioid and drug overdoses, the youth mental health crisis, and growing challenges in getting care. She highlighted how the mental health care and substance use disorder treatment workforce continue to be stretched thin, with Washington state’s mental health care workforce able to meet only 17 percent of the state’s needs. Senator Murray also made clear that these hardships are not felt equally, with communities of color, Tribal communities, people with disabilities, and others facing even greater harm.
Senator Murray emphasized that while Democrats provided important resources through the American Rescue Plan—which have helped schools hire counselors and psychologists, give resources to community-based behavioral health providers, and boost programs to treat mental health, suicide, burnout, and substance use, and more—additional support is still needed.
“Healing the scars of this pandemic won’t be quick or easy—this will take years, and we must act accordingly. It’s time to build on this Committee’s bipartisan history of expanding access to mental health services and responding to rising drug overdose deaths—like we did in 2016 and 2018,” said Senator Murray.
The hearing included testimony from Dr. Mitch Prinstein, PhD, ABPP, Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association from Chapel Hill, NC; Dr. Michelle P. Durham, MD, MPH, FAPA, DFAACAP, Vice Chair of Education, Department of Psychiatry, and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine from Boston, MA; Sara Goldsby, MSW, MPH, Director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services from Columbia, SC; Dr. Jennifer D. Lockman, PhD, CEO of the Centerstone Research Institute from Nashville, TN; and Claire Rhyneer, a mental health youth advocate from Anchorage, AK.
Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation was facing mental health and substance use disorder challenges on multiple fronts: millions of people experienced depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, drug overdoses were on the rise, and our health workforce was stretched far too thin.
“In 2018, mental health issues were responsible for 56 million doctor office visits, and 5 million emergency room visits.
“In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents. From 1999 to 2019 the rate of overdose deaths more than tripled.
“And then COVID-19 hit, and made things even worse. Our nation lost over 100,000 people to drug overdoses in a single year. And overdose deaths—especially deaths involving fentanyl—skyrocketed in my home state during the pandemic.
“Nationwide, we are also seeing a concerning rise in methamphetamine and cocaine use as well. Across the country, people are stressed, and this pandemic has been especially traumatic for children.
“Our schools, teachers, and education leaders are seeing this every day. Our educators are on the front lines trying to help so many students experiencing mental health challenges, often without the support of trained mental health professionals.
“We’ve seen sharp increases in kids’ visits to the emergency room for mental health crises, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts—especially among girls.
“And as of last December, over 167,000 children have had their world shattered after losing a parent or caregiver to COVID-19—some have even lost both parents.
“And we know marginalized students are facing the worst of these challenges, deepening inequities they already face.
“We also know educators and caregivers are facing their own mental health challenges from the strain of this pandemic as well.
“We need to continue helping our students and educators and ensuring schools have the support, training and resources they need.
“But right now, our mental health and substance use disorder workforce is stretched too thin to meet the needs of our kids, let alone our communities at large. And if we just keep stretching without taking action—something is going to break.
“For example, nearly half of psychologists reported feeling burnt out last year, and we aren’t even close to providing mental health care to everyone who needs it.
“Almost 130 million Americans live in areas with less than one mental health care provider per 30 thousand people.
“In my home state of Washington, our mental health care workforce is only able to meet 17 percent of our state’s needs.
“Meanwhile, nationwide, less than one in ten people who need treatment for substance use disorder actually get it. And these hardships are not felt equally.
“The highest increase in opioid deaths recently has been among Black Americans. Rates of suicide are highest among American Indian and Alaska Native populations.
“Of course, while some communities may face greater behavioral health challenges, this crisis affects all of us. Even if we aren’t personally struggling with mental health or substance use, we all have friends and family who are—whether we realize it or not. We all rely on first responders, health care providers, teachers, and other frontline professionals who are facing burnout and trauma.
“We all have a stake in making sure people can get the help they need.
“That’s why Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan to provide resources for schools to hire counselors and psychologists, community-based behavioral health providers, programs to treat mental health, suicide, burnout, and substance use, and more.
“But we aren’t done. Healing the scars of this pandemic won’t be quick or easy—this will take years, and we must act accordingly.
“It’s time to build on this Committee’s bipartisan history of expanding access to mental health services and responding to rising drug overdose deaths—like we did in 2016 and 2018.
“In my state, I’ve seen how communities can benefit from some of the critical programs this Committee has worked on including programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“For example, in Clark County—which saw fentanyl deaths triple in 2020—Lifeline Connections is using a SAMHSA grant to better prepare teachers and school personnel, law enforcement, first responders, and caregivers to respond to mental health crises and refer those in need to appropriate treatment.
“Meanwhile, in King County, federal support has allowed Neighborhood House to provide mental health services for over 150 adults experiencing homelessness.
“And the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation are using grant funding from SAMHSA to fight the high rate of suicide in their community by updating their health records and mental health procedures, hiring more therapists, and expanding telehealth services which have been critical to reach people during this pandemic.
“If we are going to respond to the behavioral health issues this pandemic has made worse, it’s clear we must build on these efforts.
“That will take legislative action. So, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we can do that and working with Senator Burr and everyone on this Committee on a bipartisan effort to reauthorize, improve, and expand critical federal programs that address mental health and substance use disorder challenges.
“I hope every member of this Committee and the Senate can work together to bring their priorities forward for us to include.
“My goal is to work with Ranking Member Burr to fold those priorities together into a larger package that makes progress on many of the issues we will hear about today, like suicide screening and prevention, youth mental health, the opioids and overdose crises, and breaking down barriers in access to mental health care.
“Finally, I want to acknowledge that mental health and substance use disorders do not exist in a vacuum.
“In addition to this pandemic, there are a lot of issues people are worried about right now—from gun violence, to climate change, to systemic racism, to just making ends meet.
“As we work to do more to help people struggling with depression, anxiety, and stress. We also need to look for ways to solve the problems that are making things so hard for so many people in the first place.
“And I hope to continue working with my colleagues on these root causes as well.
“Now I’ll turn it over to Senator Murkowski for her opening remarks.”
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