In 1963, President John F. Kennedy stated, “It was said, in an earlier age, that the mind of a man is a far country which can neither be approached nor explored. But, today, under present conditions of scientific achievement, it will be possible for a nation as rich in human and material resources as ours to make the remote reaches of the mind accessible.” This sentiment rings especially true today as our country battles one of its most enduring enemies: COVID-19.
As Americans continue to stay at home and adhere to social distancing guidelines to fight the coronavirus pandemic, it cannot be forgotten that social isolation, financial burden, and job loss can be extremely difficult, especially for those who are struggling with their mental health. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half (45%) of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus. As our nation continues to weather this crisis, mandated public health measures such as shelter-in-place and social distancing, albeit necessary, are contributing to poor mental health outcomes including anxiety, depression, and increased substance use.
We are now at a watershed moment in American history. Will the Administration reevaluate and prioritize the mental health of U.S. citizens? Will they look the other way? Immediate action is particularly important for those who are already in jeopardy including individuals living with disabilities, veterans, and seniors.
To combat COVID-19’s toll on our economy, states have been asked to institute budget cuts, which will in turn cause great harm to programs that support vital mental health services. Furthermore, of the $2 trillion invested in the recent CARES Act, only 0.04 percent of the economic relief package was allocated to mental health programs. During a time when diagnoses and symptoms are mounting, these critical programs will most likely lack the funding needed to survive the pandemic.
Our past demonstrates clearly that nothing will change without power or demand. That’s why renowned, national leaders such as Easterseals and The Kennedy Forum are spearheading a dialogue grounded in advocacy to bolster mental health services and expand access to treatment. Unfortunately, it’s taken a global pandemic to generate conversation about the greater need for funding.
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly spurred change in the way mental health is treated and talked about in our society. It’s no longer considered a taboo subject. In fact, discussion on how to create opportunities for awareness, empathy, collaboration, and funding is now encouraged and celebrated. So, let’s act on this important paradigm shift and do whatever it takes to spark lasting change.
To learn more about how Easterseals and The Kennedy Forum are addressing mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic, we are happy to have the opportunity to share our recent one-on-one discussion. Ultimately, the expansion of, and increased access to, mental health services will continue to be critical to minimize the adverse effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy is the founder of The Kennedy Forum and author of the New York Times Bestseller, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.” He also co-chairs Mental Health for US and the Action Alliance’s Mental Health & Suicide Prevention National Response to COVID-19.
Angela Williams is President and CEO of Easterseals, a 101-year-old nonprofit which delivers high-quality services and powerful advocacy to 1.5 million individuals with disabilities, veterans, seniors and their families each year through its network of 68 affiliates in communities nationwide. Its services include early intervention, autism services, mental health care and support, workforce development and senior services.