Biden lays out plan to tackle mental health crisis in State of the Union address

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The president's plan includes expanding access to mental healthcare and cracking down on social media companies that target young children.

President Joe Biden urged the nation to come together to solve the mental health crisis in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

"Let's get all Americans the mental health services they need," Biden said. "More people they can turn to for help, and full parity between physical and mental healthcare if we treat it that way in our insurance."

Mental health was one of the four topics — along with supporting veterans, eradicating cancer, and fighting the opioid epidemic — Biden unveiled in his administration's new "unity agenda." The agenda focuses on "big things we can do together" that lack a "partisan edge," Biden said.

During the pandemic, roughly 40% of U.S. adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared to 10% of U.S. adults who reported the same symptoms in 2019, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. Additionally, one in three Americans lives in an area that suffers from a shortage of mental health professionals, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And a recent report from Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, found that more than half of adults living with mental illness do not receive treatment. That adds up to 27 million untreated adults.

On Tuesday, the White House released its plan to tackle the mental health crisis and work to regulate social media companies, citing the disproportionate effect of the crisis on communities of color. The Biden administration's plan takes a three-pronged approach: strengthen the U.S. healthcare system's capacity for mental health care, connect more people with care and treatment, and address the social factors underpinning the crisis.

The White House plans to invest $700 million in programs that incentivize mental health clinicians to practice in underserved communities in the 2023 federal budget. The Biden administration will also invest federal funds to train paraprofessionals, address burnout among health care workers, launch a crisis hotline, expand community health clinics, and commission more research on mental health.

Biden intends to integrate mental health treatment into primary care settings, make insurance companies cover mental health care benefits the same way they do physical health care benefits, expand telehealth options, create user-friendly online treatment tools on the website mentalhealth.gov, and place mental health providers in community settings like libraries and homeless shelters.

He also said he wants to double the number of mental health providers in schools, using American Rescue Plan funding plus an additional $1 billion in the president's 2023 budget.

And, beyond augmenting the healthcare system and connecting Americans to services they need, Biden said he wants to address some of society's root causes for mental health issues. Those efforts largely involve cracking down on social media companies and holding them accountable "for the national experiment they're conducting on our children for profit."

"It's time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children," Biden said on Tuesday.

Biden also linked the United States' mental health crisis to the harmful effects of social media, marking the first time a president has mentioned the subject in a State of the Union address.

During his speech, Biden honored Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a guest of First Lady Jill Biden, and commended her for exposing the social media giant's cover-up of its apps' negative mental health effects on young children.

"I'm grateful that @POTUS elevated what social media is doing to kids' mental health in the State of the Union so we can continue exposing the truth and empowering all parties to change this horrifying reality," Haugen tweeted on Tuesday night.

She added: "We cannot let Meta run the same playbook on our kids and families that Big Tobacco did a generation ago by hiding research about the addictive, harmful nature of their products."

Advocates for increased access to mental health care applauded Biden for placing mental health at the center of his "unity agenda," which also included calls to support Americans in recovery from substance use disorder, help low-income veterans receive proper care, and stand by transgender youth, all groups who bear the brunt of the mental health care crisis.

"We applaud POTUS's announcements during tonight's #SOTU22 that prioritize mental health, protect the digital privacy and well-being of children and teens, and support transgender youth," the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 pediatricians nationwide, tweeted on Tuesday.

"We look forward to what comes next," the organization added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.