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Voices from the Movement: Patrick J. Kennedy on the Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19

May 8, 2020

The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the nation’s leading political voice on mental illness. He is the founder of The Kennedy Forum, a non-profit organization working to foster a national dialogue on mental health and addiction through collaborative partnerships between mental health advocates, business leaders, and government agencies. Patrick also co-founded One Mind, an organization with open science principles that has helped spark a global revolution in how scientists collaborate to study, diagnose, and treat brain diseases. Patrick has long been an ardent advocate for mental health care in America and works to challenge the stigma and shame commonly surrounding families trying to cope with mental illness and addiction.

We are pleased to share a recent piece in the Morning Consult, co-authored by Patrick and Shawn Coughlin, President and CEO of the National Association for Behavioral Health, where they call for rigorous policy changes and expansion of telehealth services to ensure that the social isolation, unemployment, and skyrocketing anxieties resulting from COVID-19 do not exacerbate America’s mental health and addiction crises.

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced some hopeful news when it reported a slight uptick in U.S. life expectancy following years of decline largely due to historic rates of overdoses and suicides. 

Sadly, COVID-19 has the potential to reverse serious progress made in addressing our nation’s mental health and addiction crises — particularly around overdose rates — unless policymakers mitigate the pandemic’s serious effects on behavioral health in the next stimulus package. 

Lawmakers must understand mental health care for what it is: an integral part of overall health care. Science shows that mental health affects physical health, and we know whole-person care is critical to longevity. Treating the body and mind separately has cost too many lives already. Unfortunately, our policymakers have followed this old pattern in the recent emergency COVID-19 bills. 

For example, Congress has failed to acknowledge that people struggling with mental health and substance use disorders are highly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, especially because many of them have other co-existing physical health conditions and higher rates of homelessness.

Read more at Morning Consult.