Harris calls for more treatment beds, an end to solitary confinement, and increased access to mental health treatment in her newly released plan.
Senator Kamala Harris unveiled her new mental health plan in South Carolina this week during an event featuring radio personality/author Charlamagne tha God. Harris sat down with The Breakfast Club host to discuss the state of mental health in America.
A Public Policy Failure
“Probably one of the biggest public policy failures of America is the failure to address mental health and put the resources into it as a priority. The result of that is that people are silently suffering who should never suffer. We have so many children who are experiencing undiagnosed, untreated trauma, whether it is because they’re growing up in a home where there’s violence, which crosses socioeconomic lines, or a community where there’s violence, or growing up in poverty because — let’s be clear — poverty is trauma-inducing,” Harris explained, according to Post and Courier. “All of the behaviors that result from that undiagnosed, untreated trauma are predictable. We’re failing to address it and then where we do address it is in the criminal justice system. We have basically turned jails and prisons into these gigantic mental health facilities without any mental health treatment.”
Charlamagne then touched on the issue of trauma and how he had to unlearn stigmatizing beliefs regarding who is affected by mental illness.
“They call it a correctional facility, but what are you really correcting? You’re taking these kids who are already dealing with so much trauma and throwing them in a situation that’s just putting trauma on top of trauma, and then you’re letting them out in the world — if they are blessed enough to come home — and they haven’t dealt with anything,” he said. “I think one of the reasons they don’t get the help they need is because we don’t look at mental health services as something that should be part of a larger healthcare initiative. I didn’t even realize anxiety and depression was considered a mental health issue until I started going to therapy. When you think mental health, you think schizophrenia, you think somebody in a straitjacket, but no, it’s people dealing with these issues every single day and they just don’t have the proper tools and resources to go deal with it.”
Harris added, “And then we deal with it when it reaches a crisis level. You would never say that we should have a health care system that only deals with stage four cancer.”
In her new plan, Harris calls for an amendment to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that would protect healthcare providers who give out patients’ private information if they are acting out of “good faith.”
Disabled healthcare advocate Kendally Brown tweeted Harris in response to her proposed HIPAA amendments. “I adore you, but eliminating the IMD exclusion would remove the ONE protection mentally ill people have from the state locking them up in institutions long-term. I love that you’re focussing on mental health, but any solution MUST be community based, not institutional.”
Brown’s stance is a common one among recovery and mental health advocates who fight for patients with addiction and/or mental health issues to make their own healthcare decisions.
Kamala’s Mental Health Plan
Here is Harris’s multi-pronged plan to address mental health, according to her campaign website:
Focus Federal Funding on Needed Mental Health Research
Kamala will direct federal funds to seek better treatment for mental illness and research on mental health issues more broadly, including research on adults with serious mental illness (SMI) and the use of interventions that reduce homelessness, arrest, incarceration, and unnecessary hospitalization.
Expand Coverage of and Access to Mental Health Services
Through her Medicare for All plan, Kamala will deliver mental health on demand via telemedicine, providing care by phone or video to all Americans whenever and wherever they need it—all without deductibles or copays.
A shortage of mental health professionals harms American families and communities. It also drives provider stress and burnout. Kamala will authorize an educational loan forgiveness program for mental health professionals that agree to practice in areas with a shortage of providers.
Increase Access to Hospitals, Housing, and Other Care Facilities
Kamala will double the number of treatment beds nationwide, prioritizing states with shortages, including Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and Michigan, so persons with mental illness can receive the high levels of care they need.
She’ll repeal the Institutions of Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion, which precludes Medicaid funding for adults receiving care in psychiatric facilities with more than 16 beds and has exacerbated a severe shortage of acute psychiatric care beds nationwide.
Focus on Vulnerable Populations
Double US Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs (VA) research dollars to address and treat PTSD, military sexual trauma, and traumatic brain injury.
Invest in evidence-based screenings for childhood trauma—including the fact that poverty is trauma-inducing—to diagnose and treat mental illness as early as possible.
End the Mental-Illness-to-Jail Pipeline
Kamala will expand Crisis Intervention Team training, which integrates specialized police, mental health professionals, EMS, 911 systems, and hospital emergency rooms in response to mental health crisis calls.
You can read more about Harris’s plan here.