American Psychological Association Chief Science Officer Mitch Prinstein believes that the U.S. is at a turning point in how it deals with the imbalance between mental and physical health — an imbalance made worse by the COVID pandemic.
He likened this turning point to the era following World War II when the federal government created the Veterans Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health in his remarks Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
“[W]e desperately need a diverse and robust mental health system,” Prinstein said. “Our country invests over $15 billion annually to ensure we have enough physical health care providers, with the appropriate specialties throughout the country. Yet we invest less than 1 percent of this amount to build our mental health care workforce.”
Mental health in the U.S. has shown steep declines since the start of the pandemic with the rates of people reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression increasing by 4x, according to one study. This has been especially apparent among American youth.
In December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory detailing the mental health crisis American youth face and its dire trajectory, going so far as to say, “The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.”
“A $1 billion increase … for youth mental health research would still be a very small proportion of the allocation currently offered to study conditions that afflict far fewer youth than those currently suffering from psychological disorders,” Prinstein told the committee, adding that the U.S. needs to more deeply invest in psychological science to understand possible prevention and treatments of mental health issues.
Prinstein called for the reauthorization and expansion of the Graduate Psychology Education and Minority Fellowship programs and to enact the proposed Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act.
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., requires the Health Resources and Services Administration, a part of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, to establish a loan repayment program for behavioral health professionals who work in designated workforce-shortage areas. The bill has been in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since May 2021.
Prinstein also called for Congress to give the U.S. Labor Department the authority to levy financial penalties against health insurers that violate the federal parity law that requires them to cover mental health issues on par with physical health issues. Without this authority, “enforcement will be almost impossible,” he said.
Last week, the Labor Department and two other cabinet-level departments released a report showing that health plans are failing to ensure parity between mental and physical health in their benefit plans.