ASTHO Policy Watch 2022: Mental Health

February 02, 2022 | Maggie Davis

Teenage girl sits in her bedroom looking sadContinuing ASTHO’s Legislative Prospectus series—which highlights the top 10 public health policy issues for 2022—we are focusing this week on mental and behavioral health as well as supporting the public health workforce.

Mental Health

Access to quality and affordable mental and behavioral health care was difficult for millions of adults before the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 51.5 million adults experiencing mental illness nationwide in 2019, with less than half receiving services. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue, with a recent survey of mental health providers noting significant increases in requests for treatment of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and trauma- and stress-related disorders. Workforce shortages contribute to unmet behavioral health needs nationwide, particularly among rural communities, non-English speaking communities, and for youth.

Youth mental health challenges have reached crisis levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. CDC data show there was a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among 12-17-year-olds compared to the previous year. This increase was even more pronounced for young girls, with 50% more visits in the winter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Furthermore, the 2021 LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Survey conducted by the Trevor Project found that 70% of LGBTQ youth rated their mental health as “poor” most of the time or always during the pandemic.

States and territories are adopting a wide array of policies to improve mental and behavioral health, including:

  • Implementing significant investments in suicide prevention.
  • Supporting youth mental health.
  • Improving access through telehealth.

Read the Mental Health Policy Prospectus