Congress Holds Hearings on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held hearings to discuss issues related to mental health, including youth mental health and substance use disorders. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy was the sole witness at the Finance Committee’s hearing, while the HELP Committee featured Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association Dr. Mitch Prinstein (a member of the COSSA Board of Directors), Vice Chair of Education in the Psychiatry Department at Boston Medical Center Dr. Michelle Durham, Director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Sarah Goldsby, Chief Executive Officer of the Centerstone Research Institute Dr. Jennifer Lockman, and youth advocate for mental health services in Alaska Claire Rhyneer as witnesses.

Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) presided over the Senate Finance Committee hearing on protecting youth mental health on February 8. In their opening statements, Senator Wyden and Senator Crapo emphasized the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and their mental health. Senator Wyden remarked that the Committee is working on creating bipartisan legislation in an effort to address the youth mental health crisis and laid out the framework for the organization of the efforts, with one member from each party spearheading issues such as workforce shortages, telehealth availability, and coverage discrepancies. Dr. Murthy supported this endeavor and engaged with the Committee members to answer questions relevant to these and other topics related to youth mental health. A recording of the hearing is available on the Finance Committee website.

The Senate HELP Committee held its hearing on February 1, led by Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who stood in for Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC). Much like Senator Wyden and Senator Crapo’s opening statements, Senator Murray and Senator Murkowski commented on the dismal state of availability for mental health services in their states and across the country. Similarly, members of the HELP Committee emphasized the role of stigma surrounding mental illness in exacerbating mental health crises and contributing to substance use disorders among vulnerable Americans. Both committees noted the concerning racial and ethnic disparities that are associated with mental health concerns and substance use disorders and expressed interest in working to overcome such disparities. Senator Murray and the members of the Committee also stated their intent to collaborate and create a bipartisan package which would work to address the mental health and substance use disorder crises in the country in the near future. A recording of the hearing is available on the HELP Committee website.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s Spring Intern Sofi Cavenaile of the University of Texas, San Antonio.


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