A bipartisan group of mayors visited Capitol Hill this week to share with lawmakers the impacts of the mental health crisis in their cities and help craft ideas for how to best use funding to solve problems, USA Today reports. The mayors say they want to sound an alarm about the difficulty local leaders face when combating a mental health crisis that is worsening in communities across the country. The issues stemming from the crisis range from homelessness to substance use to mental illness like depression and shortages of behavioral and mental health workers. According to a recent survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 88 percent of mayors reported they do not have adequate access to the resources needed to address the mental health crisis. Additionally, 97 percent said requests for mental health services have increased in their city over the last two years. “We want to address it head on because we believe it’s the number one crisis in America,” said Hillary Schieve, mayor of Reno, Nev. “But we also have to be realistic — there is no place to take the sickest people and that is tragic."
Mayors have had a front-row seat to see how the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the mental health challenges many face. Struggling with increased demands, those leading America's cities are seeking a seat at the table to discuss the resources needed to help solve the crisis at all levels of government. The issue doesn't stem from a lack of programs, but their lack of effectiveness, Albany, N.Y., Mayor Kathy Sheehan said. In Albany, Sheehan described how a person who is threatening violence may go to the emergency room where they can stay for 24 hours and get a prescription refilled, but then are sent back out on the street. Once their prescription runs out, Sheehan said they are often back where they started. “We’re talking about it from a public safety standpoint, but what we need is a public health solution,” she said. She emphasized the need for more behavioral health providers who can be available to respond to calls related to a mental health crisis instead of sending police officers. “We need them in the streets," she said of mental health providers, "...not in an office that people have to go to between 9 and 5." Pandemic relief funds from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan funneled money to states and local governments to support mental health programs, but the funding is set to expire in 2025. "The mental health need isn't going away and we have to understand the dimensions of it and start to fund it for a new normal and the new normal in terms of what is going to be required was higher than before COVID," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who served as the mayor of Richmond from July 1998 to September 2001.