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7 Ways Democrats Are Taking on Mental Health in the 2020 Draft Party Platform

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Editor's Note

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

I have been a lifelong Democrat, just as my family is.

There was, however, a time in fifth grade when Reagan was running against Jimmy Carter and we had a school mock presidential election. My dad asked who I was voting for. I told him Reagan. He was stunned. I told him it was because he was going to help the poor. Boy, was I wrong. So, since then, I have voted straight-Democrat.

I am always interested to read the Republican and Democrat Party platforms to see how they are addressing the mental health crisis in our country and how that will impact me. The Democrats have released their platform, so I looked. I was mainly pleased with what they covered. The Republicans did not propose a platform for 2020.

Here are some of the ways the Democrats pledge to address the mental health crisis:

1. Expanding access to mental health and substance use treatment.

Every American who needs it should be able to access mental health care or substance use disorder treatment, no matter where they live. Democrats will aggressively enforce the federal mental health and substance use disorder parity law and ensure that health insurers adequately cover mental health and substance use treatment. We will also invest in training and hiring more mental health providers, substance use disorder counselors and peer support counselors, including by expanding funding for health clinics, especially in rural areas, and increasing access to these services through Medicaid. Trauma has a profound effect on both mental and physical health, and Democrats will support increased training for health care professionals, educators, social workers, and other care workers in trauma-informed care and practices. We will oppose efforts to weaken HIPAA and FERPA privacy rights of people with mental illness.

Democrats recognize that incarcerated people experience serious mental health and substance use disorders at higher rates than the general population, which is why we will support expanded access to mental health and substance use disorder care in prisons and for returning citizens.

2. Protecting communities and building trust by reforming our criminal justice system.

Democrats also recognize that all too often, systematic cuts to public services have left police officers on the front lines of responding to social challenges for which they have not been trained, from homelessness, to mental health crises, to the opioid epidemic. We can and must do better for our communities.

Democrats will reinvigorate community policing approaches, so officers on the beat better serve the neighborhoods they work in and make smart investments to incentivize departments to build effective partnerships with social workers and mental health and substance use counselors to help respond to public health challenges.

2. Protecting LGBTQIA+ rights.

Recognizing that LGBTQIA+ youth and adults experience significant health disparities, including mental health and substance use disorders, Democrats will expand mental health and suicide prevention services, and ban harmful “conversion therapy” practices.

3. Protecting disability rights.

One in four American adults live with a disability. Democrats believe people with disabilities deserve to lead full, happy and healthy lives. Democrats will fully enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, and the Help America Vote Act, among other bedrock statutes  protecting the rights of people with disabilities. We will oppose any efforts to weaken enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We will ensure non-discrimination in access to health care, building on the protections for people with disabilities enshrined in the Affordable Care Act. We will ensure every federal agency aggressively enforces the integration mandate affirmed in the Olmstead decision, and repair the damage done by the Trump Administration. We will rigorously enforce non-discrimination protections for people with disabilities in health care, employment, education and housing, and ensure equal access to the ballot box.

4. Honoring Indigenous tribal nations.

American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians are uninsured at higher rates and experience disparities in health outcomes, including in the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats will make mandatory and work toward full funding for the Indian Health Service and the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act to help expand access to health care for Indigenous people, including mental health, dental care and substance use disorder treatments, and will fully fund contract support costs. We will expand insurance coverage for Native Americans (including American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians) no matter where they live by creating a high-quality, affordable public option on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, and making the public option available without premiums to low-income families.

5. Supporting high-quality K-12 schools across America.

Democrats also believe that all schools should have adequate resources to expand school-based health services and hire guidance counselors, social workers, nurses and school psychologists to help support students’ mental health needs, address trauma and promote social and emotional development. We will work with school administrators, educators, students and mental health advocates to reduce the stigma that too often prevents students from seeking out these resources. Democrats will make sure schools do not engage in, and appropriately address, discrimination, bullying and harassment related to sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, race, national origin, immigration or citizenship status, religion, disabilily and language status. We will protect the rights of transgender students.

6. Keeping faith with our veterans and military families.

Twenty veterans and service members die by suicide every day. We will treat suicide as the public health crisis it is. Today, only half of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have access to the mental health services they need. That’s why we will invest in mental health and suicide prevention services, and work with our military communities to encourage and support those seeking help, connecting them to critical services. Democrats will provide the hundreds of thousands of service members that transition to civilian life with the support they need.

7. Achieving universal, affordable, quality health care.

We are going to, at last, build the health care system the American people have always deserved: one that finally provides universal health care coverage; reduces prescription drug prices, premiums and out-of-pocket costs; reins in overall health care expenses; and tackles the deep-seated inequities in our health care system. We will build a health care system that is driven by the needs of patients and the people who care for them, instead of the profit motives of corporations. We will tackle entrenched racial disparities in health care, reduce prescription drug prices by standing up to big pharmaceutical companies, and make it easier to access mental health and substance use disorder treatment and long-term services and supports in metropolitan and rural areas alike. Democrats will always fight to save Americans’ lives by making it easier and more affordable to go to the doctor, get prescription medicines and access preventive testing and treatments. Generations of Democrats have been united in the fight for universal health care. We are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All; all are critical to ensuring that health care is a human right.

I feel the Democrats did a thorough job addressing the needs of the mental health community. I would, however, like to see more commitments about funding of organizations who are doing this work in the trenches, not just government entities. I would also like to have seen some recognition that we are disproportionately incarcerating the mentally ill when they just needed services to help mitigate their symptoms. This is a travesty that can be easily fixed with political and social will.

What do you think is missing or could be improved on? Please remark in the comments.

Government leadership plays a significant role in insuring we are set as a priority and are getting the services and support we need. Easy access to affordable healthcare and quality services and medication is the only way we are going to be able to live lives to our fullest potential.

Make sure you are an informed voter and #Vote4MentalHealth this fall like your life and my life depends on it.

Photo by Olaiwon David on Unsplash

Originally published: September 3, 2020
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