The chief executive officers (CEOs) of the nation’s 14 leading mental health advocacy organizations and professional associations formed a unified coalition that plans to engage with the federal government, governors, and key elected officials in 50 states to introduce a roadmap for accelerating effective mental health treatment as the nation struggles to weather the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The leadership coalition is composed of CEOs from the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, Mental Health America, the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, One Mind, Peg’s Foundation, the Steinberg Institute, The Kennedy Forum, the Treatment Advocacy Center, and Well Being Trust.
The CEO coalition was established in early 2020, and the group began meeting in emergency sessions weekly at the onset of the pandemic, which has greatly exacerbated the fault lines in an already fractured mental health system and heightened mental health issues across the nation—including anxiety, depression, isolation, addiction, domestic abuse, and suicide. Just as the public health care system was unprepared for a pandemic, an unprecedented mental health crisis afflicting half of all Americans has overwhelmed the mental health care system. Since the onset of the pandemic, prevalence of depression symptoms have jumped three-fold, overdose deaths have increased in 40 states, and the CDC reports that 25% of young adults struggle with suicidal ideation. By proposing “shovel-ready” solutions, the group is looking to harness public-private partnerships and inspire systemic change.
In a joint statement, the leadership coalition said: “The mental health crisis that has evolved along with the COVID pandemic is unprecedented. The levies have broken on an overwhelmed system of care and state leadership must move to address mental health care as an integral aspect of their pandemic response. As leaders in mental health care, we offer a viable roadmap for immediate and long-term changes that will lead to a mental health care system capable of saving our nation.”
The leadership coalition’s plan—titled “A Unified Vision for Transforming Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care”—calls for policy, programs, and standards that prioritize mental health care and address the social and economic conditions—including racism and discrimination—that disproportionately impact people of color and the poor, and result in inadequate and inequitable access to effective, humane treatment. The plan is intended to stem the current crisis and secure the future. It offers tried-and-tested “pathways for success” across seven critical policy areas identified as:
- Early identification and prevention, especially for families and young people;
- Rapid deployment of emergency crisis response and suicide prevention;
- Leveling inequities in access to care;
- Establishing integrated health and mental health care to ensure “whole-person” well-being;
- Achieving parity in payment by health plans for mental health and addiction coverage;
- Assuring evidence-based standards of treatments and care; and,
- Engaging a diverse mental health care workforce, peer support, and community-based programs.
Included in the vision is a detailed proposal for how the new Administration, Congress, state governors, and state and local lawmakers must work in tandem with the business community and the non-profit sector to promote systemic changes in the mental health care system. Among the seven suggestions are a number of ideas that can be implemented quickly, such as, embracing telehealth, and implementing strategic shifts to early intervention that can help provide relief by bringing telehealth outside of a clinical setting—and into schools, community centers, prisons; fast-tracking new emergency response systems, such as the new “988” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for immediate access on mobile carriers; and, engaging a diverse mental health care workforce, providing additional support means by expanding access to peer support groups and community based programs.
Organizations and CEO Leadership
- American Psychiatric Association: CEO and Medical Director: Saul Levin, M.D., MPA, FRCP-E
- American Psychological Association: CEO and Executive Vice President: Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D.
- Massachusetts Assn for Mental Health: President and CEO, Danna Mauch, Ph.D.
- Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute: President and CEO, Andy Keller, Ph.D.
- Mental Health America: President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo
- National Assn for Behavioral Healthcare: President and CEO: Shawn Coughlin
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): CEO, Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
- National Council for Behavioral Health: President and CEO, Charles Ingoglia, MSW
- One Mind: Chairman, Garen Staglin; President, Brandon Staglin
- Peg’s Foundation: President, Rick Kellar, MBA
- Steinberg Institute: Chair, Thomas Insel, M.D. (former director NIMH until 2015)
- The Kennedy Forum: Former U.S. Representative (D-RI) and Founder, Kennedy Forum: Patrick J. Kennedy
- Treatment Advocacy Center: Executive Director: John Snook
- Well Being Trust: Chief Executive: Tyler Norris, MDiv
This was reported by the American Psychological Association on December 16, 2020.