Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | The federal government is failing Americans by not offering sufficient mental health resources. As mayor of Reno, Nevada, it's my job to do something. And it's personal.
The consequences of decades of neglecting mental health as a critical component of one’s well-being are becoming more and more evident. Today, millions continue to suffer in silence or without the necessary resources or support required to get the help they need. As a mayor, it’s my job to pick up where Washington has fallen short. And for me, this is very personal.
Mental illness runs in my family. In 2020, it took my older sister, my brother and my brother-in-law. My heart has been broken on so many levels, and while I have always tried to shed a light on mental illness, the issue now drives my work so that fewer families will have to endure what ours has. The stigma is truly keeping too many families hiding in dark shadows of shame and fear to address it.
While the pandemic has made it worse, this epidemic is not new. Almost one-in-five adults reported suffering from a mental illness – nearly 50 million Americans – even before Covid-19. Now facing two national public health crises, it’s clear our health care system is not equipped to handle both.
And the mental health challenges experienced by America’s youth continue to increase by staggering numbers. From 2001 to 2019, the suicide rate for adolescents ages 10 to 19 jumped by 40%, and emergency room visits for self-harm rose by 88%. According to Harvard’s Fall 2021 Youth Poll, more than half of young Americans reported having felt down, depressed and hopeless—and 25% had thoughts of self-harm at least several times within two weeks of participating in the survey.
How Reno is Helping Residents
As mayor of a fast-growing city, I don’t have the option to ignore what is taking place before our eyes. People here in Reno, just like in every city, expect their local leaders to solve problems. And it starts with resources.
Over the past two years, there have not been enough mental health professionals to meet the surge in demand for care. But we also must address the stigma that continues to leave so many afraid to reach out for help.
Solving these problems requires a strong federal-local partnership. And though the pandemic has brought so much devastation, it has also increased awareness of this need, and we have begun to make progress.
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Through CARES Act funds, Reno made mental health services available for all residents at the height of the pandemic. In December 2020, the city voted to approve CARES dollars to fund a collaboration between Talkspace, the City of Reno and Hopeful Cities from the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression, or iFred. Talkspace—a tele-mental health provider—provided services to more than 3,000 people, with nearly half accessing mental health care for the first time.
Now, the city is working with local providers to tackle any barriers residents may face when accessing mental health care. We are also in the process of creating a 24/7 mental health-care facility so no resident ever has to go without care.
The Need for Federal Action
When surveyed at the end of 2021 about the long-term consequences of the pandemic, the No. 1 concern of 126 mayors was mental health. In Reno and across Nevada, the mental health crisis is far from over. Too many people are suffering in silence, unable to get the mental health care they want and need. While mayors are doing everything they can to tackle this crisis, we cannot do it alone.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a plan to address mental health, emphasizing the needs of children, supporting crisis care and making sure health insurance actually covers mental health care. These are all great first steps, and mayors across the nation are grateful for the president’s leadership, especially as our nation deals with a multitude of other global crises.
Going forward, mental health should be at the core of every city’s planning. Without good mental health services, everything from the economy to public safety to community is at risk.
But Congress also needs to act. While I am hopeful that bipartisan momentum on Capitol Hill will lead to landmark investments in mental health, every second we fail to act, someone continues to suffer in silence. Now, more than ever, our leaders must invest in mental health.
Mayors are committed, day in and day out, to tackling this crisis for the millions of Americans who need our help. I always say our nation’s mental health crisis is the pandemic that we aren’t talking about, but now is the time more than ever.
Hillary Schieve is the mayor of Reno and serves as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.