The Biden administration has invested billions into improving mental health care in the nation’s schools, providing training to health care providers on suicide prevention and behavioral health, and scaling up crisis lifelines, among other investments.
Those come on top of the administration’s legislative achievements on mental health, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which represented the largest-ever national investment in mental health care.
The American Rescue Plan, best known for providing $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans and expanding the child tax credit for parents, also made direct investments into behavioral health care and helped reduce mental health issues brought on by financial stressors.
As the month comes to a close—and as the rate of American adults who report having been diagnosed with depression has reached a record high—here’s a closer look at the administration’s efforts on mental health:
Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last June.
The bill included unprecedented resources to help address mental health needs across the nation, particularly for young people that have been exposed to gun violence, which has been shown to have a direct link to the development of mental illness.
At a time when rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially among young Americans, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act provides roughly $10 billion in funding for mental health care. Most of that funding will go towards expanding certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHCs) in every state. These clinics are required to treat patients for mental health and/or substance use issues, regardless of their insurance coverage, and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
These clinics must meet certain standards for the range of services they provide—which include crisis care, community-based mental health care for veterans, and psychiatric rehabilitation—and are required to get people into care quickly. CCBHCs must also provide care coordination to help patients navigate behavioral health care, physical health care, social services, and the other systems they’re involved in.
“CCBHCs lower barriers to accessing care by allowing clinics to grow their services, which translates to quicker access, increased care and treatment and expanded partnerships with schools, hospitals, and law enforcement,” the National Council for Mental Wellbeing said in a statement. “CCBHCs also provide a blueprint to effectively address the behavioral health workforce shortage and provide communities the resources needed to meet increased demand for mental health and substance use services.”
The law also included $1 billion to boost mental health support in schools and $240 million for programs that increase awareness and access to mental health support for school-aged youth. These funds are being awarded to hundreds of states, school districts, universities, and colleges through various grant programs—including the School-Based Mental Health Services (SBMH) Grant Program and the Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program—and are being used to boost the number of psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals in schools.
In Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia was awarded $927,323 through the MHSP Demonstration Grant Program. Statewide, 341 new, school-based mental health professionals are projected to be hired thanks to investments from the law.
Adding more school counselors could help address the growing youth mental health crisis and alleviate the shortage of school-based supports. A 2019 study found that 20% of students were in need of mental health services, but only one out of five of these students received the necessary services.
The law’s investment in school-based mental health resources was praised by the National Association of School Psychologists, which said it “will help schools and communities find solutions to remedy the shortages of school psychologists, counselors, and social workers.”
“School psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community,” the group said in a statement last summer.
The law also invested hundreds of millions of dollars to boost access to pediatric mental health care, improve and expand training of pediatric mental health providers, and improve treatment and services for children who have experienced trauma.
American Rescue Plan
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan also made unprecedented investments into mental health care, allocating funds to health care centers and mental health treatment all across the country.
The law also allocated $4 billion for block grants to state and local government entities to address mental health and substance use disorders. Some of this funding was used for school-based mental health programs, behavioral health workforce education and community-based behavioral health services, which primarily serve the most vulnerable and most severely mentally ill, such as unhoused people and those suffering from schizophrenia.
Thanks to this funding, schools experienced a 65% increase in social workers and a 17% increase in counselors on staff as of March 2022, according to the White House.
Helping Frontline Workers
The term “burnout” was first applied to health care workers in 1974, according to the Journal of Social Issues. Researchers agree that burnout rates among health care workers are critically high; one analysis found that the average rate could be 35.7% across all specialities, meaning those workers are experiencing a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and perceived inefficacy resulting from long-term job stress.
As groups like the nonprofit Mental Health America have noted, the COVID-19 pandemic only served to further exacerbate anxiety, depression, loneliness, and other mental health concerns among frontline workers, such as doctors and nurses.
The American Rescue Plan dedicated funding to addressing burnout and strengthening resiliency among health care workers, as did the bipartisan 2022 Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. The latter law invests $135 million into training health care providers on suicide prevention and behavioral health, while also launching an awareness campaign to promote help-seeking and self-care among these workers.
Implementation of the Dr. Lorna Breen Act is ongoing, but the legislation was backed by more than 70 well-respected medical, health, and public service organizations, including The American Academy of Emergency Medicine, The American Medical Association, The American College of Emergency Physicians, and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).
“When you see statistics indicating nurses die by suicide at a considerably higher rate than non-nurses, you quickly realize the critical importance and timing of this legislation,” ENA President Jennifer Schmitz said in a statement. “ Passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Act will deliver help to health care workers, ultimately saving lives and preserving their ability to provide the best care possible to patients.”
The Biden administration also allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to scaling up the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and supporting local capacity to answer crisis calls.
Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is made up of over 200 local – and state – funded crisis centers located across the United States.
The hotline reaches call centers around the country, including 13 in Pennsylvania. One of those centers is in Philadelphia.
“Everyone everywhere can access it. It’s a number they won’t forget,” Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel said at the rollout announcement last year. “We will be able to radically increase the number of people who are able to reach out in crisis.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the national answer rate for 988 calls, texts, and chats was 91% in Dec. 2022, up from 64% the year before. In Pennsylvania, the answer rate in Dec. 2022 was 82%.
In addition to the above measures, federal lawmakers have also introduced several bills this year to tackle the mental health crisis:
- The Supporting the Mental Health of Educators and Staff Act, which was introduced in the House earlier this year, calls for increased funding and improved mental health support for educators such as teachers, principals, and school staff members.
- The Kids Online Safety Act, which was introduced in the Senate earlier this month, would direct social media platforms to prioritize the well-being of users under the age of 17 and protect them from harmful content.
- Also this month, US Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester, (D-Delaware) and Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-Pennsylvania) introduced the Helping Kids Cope Act, which would establish grant programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration to finance programs aimed at improving the mental health of adolescents.
President Biden also directly called for more mental health care in US schools during his State of the Union address earlier this year.
And although the stigma surrounding mental health has lessened in recent years, mental health advocates say that more work still needs to be done to destigmatize these sorts of health issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions–preventing them from seeking help, or even talking about their struggles with others. It is because of this that advocates have said more focus on mental health advocacy is needed.