WASHINGTON– Federal mental health experts told a Senate panel Thursday that more trained people are needed to manage the increasing cases of suicidal behavior, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia in the country.
“The current infrastructure and workforce will need additional capacity in order to have space for the people who need treatment who will now begin to seek it,” Kana Enomoto, acting administrator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
“The expanded workforce includes prescribing and non-prescribing professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, therapists and peers,” she said.
Mental health issues affecting adults, particularly veterans, prisoners, LGBT people, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were discussed at the hearing.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said that half of the nation’s counties did not have a single psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.
“Today, far too many communities have inadequate access to mental health professionals,” she said.
Murray proposed a collaborative model, similar to one in her state, that allows mental health professionals to provide telehealth consulting to primary care physicians in communities that lack access to mental health care.
However, federal health institutions are doing their best to train more people to tackle the mental illness burden, officials said.
Jim Macrae, acting administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration in Rockville, said that the number of mental health providers in the National Health Service Corps has increased from about 800 in 2008 to well over 3,300 in 2015.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the panel’s chairman, said that he hopes Congress will pass the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation that focuses on early detection, treatment and improved awareness of mental health conditions.
Enomoto testified that the leading cause of disability in the United States was neuropsychiatric disorders or mental illnesses resulting from diseases affecting the nervous system.
The burden of untreated or undertreated behavioral health conditions on the labor market, criminal justice system, families schools and communities and others is tremendous, she said.
The 2010 healthcare law and other legislation are expected to expand protections and coverage of behavioral services to more than 60 million Americans, she said.
Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, said that improving the nation’s mental health requires better services and more research.