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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Examining Mental Health: Treatment Options and Trends”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today, our Committee will examine treatment options and trends for mental health conditions. We held a successful hearing on mental health issues last year, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to continue the dialogue on this important topic with my colleagues and our panel of expert witnesses.

“Mental health is an issue I care deeply about, and I believe we must do everything possible to ensure that individuals with mental illness get the services they need and deserve. I am proud to have championed the Mental Health Parity Act, along with my friend Paul Wellstone, to end the absurd practice of treating mental and physical illness as two different things under health insurance.  We also made a significant step forward in coverage by requiring treatment of mental health and substance use disorders as one of the ten Essential Health Benefits under the Affordable Care Act.  

“Despite these important accomplishments, there is much more to be done and discussed.  Mental health problems often begin at a young age, and can last throughout one’s life. In fact, half of all mental illnesses manifest by age 14, and three-quarters appear by the age of 24.  This creates a special urgency to making sure that children and adolescents get appropriate treatment for mental health conditions – a challenge that our expert witnesses will address today. 

“For many children, adolescents, and adults, finding the right mental health treatments can make a profound difference.  We know that for some individuals, treatment may entail psychotropic medication, behavioral interventions, community supports, or some combination of these. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment, which is why I have long been an advocate for ‘patient-driven’ care that is individualized and takes many factors into consideration.

“As I noted, there are many individuals who need medication to help manage their symptoms. Yet I am concerned about data pointing to disturbing new trends, which we will learn more about today. For example, we are seeing significant increases in the prescribing of psychotropic medications, while the use of behavioral and psychological treatments among children and youth has increased only slightly, and has actually decreased among adults. The use of psychotropic drugs by adult Americans increased 22 percent from 2001 to 2010, with one in five adults now taking at least one psychotropic medication.  

“Another study demonstrates that the use of antipsychotic medications has increased eight-fold among children, and five-fold among adolescents, and has doubled among adults between 1993 and 2009. The rapid growth of psychotropic drug use has alarmed some mental health professionals.  I’d like to better understand why this is happening, and what we can do to make sure people are getting the right treatments.

“Today we will hear from a panel of expert witnesses, who will discuss mental health treatment options and best practices from a variety of perspectives.  I know that there are no easy answers or quick fixes to addressing mental health treatment challenges, so I am looking forward to learning more from our witnesses today.”