WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–January 24 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today that the mass killings at Newtown, Conn., and other American communities have revealed serious shortcomings in access to mental health care.
“Our goal must be to provide mental health care in a timely manner and to do all that we can to prevent these tragedies from happening,” Sanders said, but he stressed that the nation’s mental health crisis goes beyond tragedies involving gun violence.
Veterans returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury conditions too often go undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Schools need more counselors for kids who are being bullied or who experience challenges at home. Better care also is needed for people struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction and stresses related to the economy.
Sanders is a member of the Senate health committee which held a hearing today on mental health services.
Sanders cited federal reports that more than 90 million Americans live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental disorders will actually receive mental health services in a year. The access challenges are particularly acute in rural America where there are not enough psychiatrists to meet the mental health needs of young people and seniors.
While mental health issues sometimes are caught and addressed in doctors’ offices and other primary care settings, there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the United States – a problem that will be the subject of a subcommittee hearing that Sanders will chair next Tuesday.
As incoming chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sanders expressed concern that untreated mental health problems contribute to a high rate of suicide. Eighteen veterans per day commit suicide. The problem is so severe that deaths of service members by suicide exceeded deaths in combat last year. Like the health care system in general, VA hospitals and health centers do not have enough mental health practitioners and are not doing enough to treat people in crisis.
“We cannot continue to let down the one-in-four Americans living with a mental health condition and all of us who have loved ones living with mental health conditions, many of whom are not getting the care that they need,” Sanders said. “We must act now. For many it is already too late.”