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State Leaders Prioritize Bipartisan Action on Behavioral Health

In a sign of growing bipartisan momentum among state leaders to invest in behavioral health care, a review by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 28 governors identified behavioral health as a priority in their State of the State addresses in early 2024. Several specifically committed to strengthening the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides emergency mental health counseling and connections to care, as well as using more crisis response teams and providing more alternative treatment options. About 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, which is four times higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to a 2021 study. The suicide rate has also increased by 30% between 2000 and 2020, indicating worsening problems within the healthcare system. The pandemic exacerbated these issues, making emergency departments ill-equipped to care for those in distress. Waiting times for psychiatric hospitalization can last for weeks, or even months.

 

Governors have responded with plans to expand services, from who is called to respond to emergencies and where followup care is provided. Continuity in this chain is crucial for behavioral health care seekers, but it's a challenge due to the current patchwork response systems in communities. Iowa's Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, acknowledged in her Jan. 9 address “little to no coordination” across the state’s 13 mental health and 19 substance use regions. Reynolds is one of several governors working to unify their states' behavioral health care efforts. Maine is also focused on making progress this year. “I propose that we establish a network of crisis receiving centers across Maine so that any person suffering a mental health crisis can get prompt and appropriate care, instead of being alone or languishing in an emergency department or a jail, as is too often the case,” said Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

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