Lawmakers point to financial returns of mental health care investment

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (DN.J.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) expressed support on Wednesday for more mental health care investments, pointing to the tens of thousands of lives potentially saved and the billions of dollars invested in a more comprehensive federal program that would benefit the US

Both lawmakers spoke at the “Cost of Mental Health Inequities” event moderated by The Hill contributing editor Steve Scully.

Coleman said federal and state governments along with local partners need to put more resources into underserved communities and pay better attention to their needs, calling the lack of mental health support in the US a “whole-of-society issue.”

“We need to be setting up networks where we catch issues, we catch the problem and address the problem head on when we see it,” she said. “Not when it blows up to become a collective problem but when it’s that individual problem.”

Watson, who helped create the Congressional Black Caucus’s Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health in 2019, said expanded health care and financial assistance for families are good starting points.

The event, sponsored by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, comes after a Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine report showing that from 2016 to 2020, nearly 117,000 lives and $278 billion could have been saved if there was a more accurate assessment of Americans struggling with mental health and more resources.

Cassidy said at the event the Republican Party would get on board with a federal program if it proved beneficial.

“There should be skepticism across the federal government because you have so many programs that don’t work,” he said. “But if you have one that does work, I can tell you the people in my party are going to be for it.”