We’re now a year into this pandemic and while we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it has been a long, dark winter for many. I’ve written before about how the hardships of COVID-19 have only exacerbated the need for mental health services and how we need to have support services in our schools to help children cope with the effects of this pandemic. However, we cannot ignore the impact this pandemic has had on people of all ages.
According to a recent Kaiser Foundation Study, about 4 in 10 U.S. adults reported symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders during the pandemic, up from 1 in 10 adults the year prior.
We need to make sure our state is adequately prepared to address the mental health needs of residents as we come out of this pandemic and begin to move forward. That is why I’ve introduced a package of 5 bills to help improve access to behavioral health care throughout the state, for residents who need it most.
Several of the measures would establish pilot programs to expand mental health care through a number of initiatives. For example, programs would introduce behavioral care at urgent care centers to stabilize patients in crisis and establish 24/7 crisis centers to provide services and referrals to people with substance use disorders.
However, we can’t ignore the struggles of those with mental illnesses considered less severe. That is why another program I’m proposing would connect emergency room patients who have mild-to-moderate mental health concerns, but who do not qualify for hospitalization, with outpatient mental health care services.
In recognition of one of the biggest barriers to mental health care, which is difficulty in understanding how to access it, another pilot program would help guide certain residents through our state’s behavioral health care system to ensure they receive the treatment they need.
Additional measures in the package would help community health centers begin providing behavioral and physical health care in the same location by assisting them with the licensure process and offering zero-interest loans to help cover the costs of incorporating mental health care into their services.
These bills, along with another bill I am working on (A-4205) to allow for out of state psychologists to provide telehealth services directly to New Jersey residents, will greatly increase access to high-quality mental health professionals who are going to be at the front lines of the worsening mental health crisis.
Mental illness has an undeniable impact on a person’s well-being, and we know addressing mental health issues will be critical to our COVID-19 recovery. We must support and encourage providers to offer care that addresses not only the physical, but the mental health needs of their patients.
Now is the time to make sure everyone in our state – young and old – can access the mental health care they need.
This piece was originally published in the Courier Post on April 13, 2021: https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/opinion/2021/04/13/new-jersey-continues-need-expanded-access-mental-health-care/7155257002/