The Senate health committee held a hearing Thursday on access to mental health services in America. It’s an issue brought into sharper focus after mass killings at Newtown, Conn., and other American communities. “We must make sure that mental health services are available to all Americans regardless of income,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a member of the committee. “Today for low- and middle-income people living in rural areas it is especially difficult to find timely, affordable care.”
Sanders cited federal reports that more than 90 million Americans live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental disorders will actually receive mental health services in a year. The access challenges are particularly acute in rural America where there are not enough psychiatrists and psychologists to meet the mental health needs of young people and seniors.
As incoming chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sanders also expressed concern that veterans returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury conditions too often go undiagnosed and therefore untreated.
While mental health issues sometimes are caught and addressed in doctors’ offices and other primary care settings, there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. A Sanders provision in the Affordable Care Act dramatically increased support for community health centers, which provide affordable primary care and mental health counseling. The law authorized $11 billion to improve and expand community health centers over a five-year period.
A continuing lack of primary health care in parts of the country will be the subject of a Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee hearing that Sanders will chair next Tuesday.