The Biden administration announced Wednesday a nationwide tour to address mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, another sign the U.S. may have reached what the president said in his his State of the Union Address “a new moment in the fight against COVID-19.”
The “National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health,” led by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, aims to hear directly from Americans about the behavioral health challenges they’re facing and engage with local leaders to strengthen services.
“The pandemic has not only taken a physical toll on all of us, but also brought on greater behavioral health challenges for everyone,” Becerra said. “From small towns to big cities, I’ll be traveling nationwide with members of my leadership team to meet with people who have been hit particularly hard, and partnering with local leaders to find ways to save lives in our communities.”
Over the next few months, the administration also will announce new initiatives to increase the number of behavioral health professionals and support workers in underserved communities, expand pediatric mental health care access through telehealth services, and transition to “9-8-8,” the new suicide and crisis hotline.
Throughout the tour, Becerra also will listen and gather ideas about what more HHS can do to address issues like substance abuse, youth mental health and suicide.
“We are hitting the road to deliver the President’s message of hope and unity – to listen and bring solutions to tackle this together,” he told USA TODAY.
Mental health experts say they’re optimistic about the tour but hope it’s closely followed by tangible responses to the mental health crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was among the top five leading causes of death in 2020 for people ages 10 to 64.
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“There is a lot of pain and suffering out there and (Americans) want to be heard,” said Dr. Benjamin Miller, president of Well Being Trust, a nonprofit health foundation. “But they also want action … listening without taking action will probably lead to more frustration.”
Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate there were more than 100,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, a nearly 30% increase from the same period the year before.
To combat this crisis, Becerra announced a new HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy designed increase access to full-range care and services for people and their families who use substances that can cause overdose.
“It’s really exciting to see so many well thought out planned policy proposals coming out right now,” Miller said. “It’s not too little, too late because if they were actually pursued, they could be consequential.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Biden administration kicks off nationwide mental health tour