Mental Health Care a Priority for Congress? No, Say Americans

Caroline Cassels

May 16, 2016

ATLANTA – Although most Americans believe that untreated mental illness has a significant negative impact on the US economy and that there is a strong need for mental health care reform, only 5% believe that mental health problems are a priority for Congress.

A new national poll released here at American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2016 Annual Meeting by the APA shows that nearly two thirds of Americans believe that mental illness has a significant negative impact on the country's economy, and 75% believe that mental health care reform is important for reducing high suicide rates and access to care.

In contrast, only 5% of Americans believe that mental health is a priority for Congress. Furthermore, the poll also shows that the US public is not confident about which presidential candidate would "best ensure the needs of those living with mental health issues are met."

The APA poll showed that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton came in the highest at 21% (30% among all Democrats), with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a close second at 19% (30% among all Democrats).

Only 10% of the total sample said that GOP front-runner Donald Trump (19% among Republicans) would be the best in meeting the nation's mental health needs.

The APA says it has endorsed efforts in Congress to reform the US mental health system, voicing its support for the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015.

The House legislation has 188 bipartisan cosponsors; the Senate bill has 16 cosponsors. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved a modified version of the Mental Health Reform Act in April; however, neither bill has yet been cleared for consideration in their respective chambers.

"We applaud the lawmakers in Congress who recognize the dire need to improve our nation's mental health system. But we call upon Congress as a whole to embrace this issue. Our poll findings show that the majority of Americans want to see improved mental health care and access," APA President Renée Binder, MD, said in a release.

The poll results also showed that although public perceptions of mental illness are better than they once were, there is still room for improvement. Almost half of respondents, 45%, agreed that there is less stigma against mental illness than there was a decade ago; however, 31% said that they would not vote for a political candidate who had been diagnosed with a mental illness, even if the candidate had been treated for it.

"It is encouraging to see the progress in reducing stigma of mental health over time, but the poll clearly shows that we have a long way to go before the majority of Americans view mental illness the same as physical illness," Dr Binder said. "Mental illness is no different than physical illness. There is help available and treatment works."

Other findings included the following:

  • Only 15% of respondents agreed that the mental health needs of military veterans are being met under the current mental health system.

  • 80% of respondents agreed that one's mental health has an impact on one's physical health.

  • Nearly 20% of respondents had personally sought care from a mental health professional, and 29% knew a family member who had.

  • Nearly half of respondents said they either did not know or were not sure how to access mental health care for themselves or a loved one.

"The fact that a vast majority of Americans, 80%, agree that someone's mental health has an impact on their physical health just shows the need for us to improve the nation's mental health system," said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, MPA. "It also illustrates the importance of collaborative care between psychiatry and other medical specialties."

The full poll results are available online.

American Psychiatric Association's (APA) 2016 Annual Meeting: Presented May 15, 2016.


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