Expanding Peer Mental Health Support at U.S. House Hearing
Vail Smith, DBSA Peer Specialist Instructor and Peer Apprentice Mentor, was selected by the Energy and Commerce Committee to speak at the hearing for “Communities in Need: Legislation to Support Mental Health and Well-Being” on Tuesday, April 5.
The Virtual Peer Support Act (H.R. 2929) and 988 and Parity Assistance Act of 2020 (H.R. 7232) were among the bills considered at the hearing. The bills fund the transition of behavioral support services to virtual platforms and create opportunities for certified peer specialists to provide community-based services associated with the new 988 mental health emergency number.
With the assistance of the Peer and Policy Advancement Team, Vail spoke about the life-changing effects of peer support services and urged committee members to make mental health services more accessible during his oral testimony.
You can read Vail’s testimony here.
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DBSA Advocates for Access to Care that Meets People Where They Are
The social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant increase in the demand for mental health services. One positive, alternative mental healthcare delivery method that has emerged is telehealth. DBSA is committed to advocating for the continued use of this model. It significantly improves access to care for those who prefer this service and meets people where they are.
According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, more individuals used telehealth services for the first time for mental health concerns than physical ailments during the height of COVID-19. The study also indicates these services will become unsustainable for some without significant federal and state policy changes.
Insurers and providers quickly adjusted to ensure equitable access to mental health services by protecting patient privacy and creating new billing protocols. However, insurers are under no obligation to continue these practices moving forward.
Two years ago, Medicare expanded telehealth reimbursement for various provider types, including mental healthcare. Additionally, healthcare providers have delivered services across state lines, although some issues still exist.
In support of this increased access to care, DBSA endorsed two key pieces of federal legislation:
- The Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act, introduced last year in the Senate and House, requires private insurance plans to cover telehealth services like in-person mental health and substance use disorder services.
- The Tele-Mental Health Care Access Act of 2021, introduced in the Senate, eliminates restrictions related to Medicare’s coverage of mental health services.
Because federal and state regulations can complicate accessing telehealth services, this continues to be a priority concern for DBSA. For more information, visit HHS Telehealth.
Tips for Boosting Mental Health Near the Anniversary of the Pandemic
- March 2022 marked the second anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the world continues to transition into a life with fewer restrictions, we face the aftermath of declining mental health. Research from the Boston University School of Public Health reports “the elevated rate of depression climbed to 32.8 percent and affected 1 in every 3 American adults.”
Boston University’s Michael Otto, PhD, Jordana Muroff, PhD, MSW, and Jessica Colarossi provide five tips to improve mood and resiliency during these precarious times:
- Experiment with small goals
- Sleep at least seven hours a night
- Engage with your community
- Stay active with regular exercise
- Make time for joy
Based on cognitive behavior therapy, setting small goals produces incremental change, leading to long-term positive shifts in managing one’s thoughts and moods.
Consistent, adequate sleep is vital as it is the body’s way to rest and rebuild itself physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Staying connected to your community through activities such as volunteer work can help you focus on your values and self-worth during particularly stressful times.
Finding a physical activity or exercise that is fun and engaging has physiological and social benefits.
“Besides the chemical shifts in the brain…exercise gives people a resilience that carries through to other parts of their lives,” Otto said.
In keeping with experimenting with small goals, Muroff suggests scheduling time to engage in activities like exercise or spending time by yourself and with other people can bring joy and meaning through the winter season and an ongoing pandemic.
Visit DBSA’s website for free resources, wellness tools, stories of inspiration, and online support groups for more self-care tips
Related Reading: These Four Telehealth Changes Should Stay, Even After the Pandemic
DBSA Support Groups: https://www.dbsalliance.org/support/
DBSA Wellness Tools: https://www.dbsalliance.org/wellness/
- How can researchers, innovators, community leaders, and individuals commit to a more meaningfully connected society? Social Health Labs and the Foundation for Social Connection (F4SC) answer this question and more in their recently published report, Creating the Conditions for Social Well-Being. The report summarizes key takeaways, shares resources, and spotlights innovations from the eight-part Connect Conversations series, which convened 26 speakers and over 2,500 community members from 55 countries.
- The Senate Finance Committee has released a report documenting the shortfalls in the mental health care system that prevent American families from accessing the care they need. According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the report marks the “next step in the bipartisan effort to understand the mental health care crisis in the U.S. [E]very American [must be] able to access the mental health and substance use disorder care they and their loved ones need when they need it.”
- DBSA joins the Kennedy Forum in applauding the Biden Administration for including key parity provisions in the FY 2023 budget, extending the Federal Parity Act to Medicare, ending state/local opt-outs, expanding the U.S. Department of Labor’s parity enforcement, and strengthening medical necessity determination rules. Read more here.
- In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Wit v. United Behavioral Health. This landmark ruling previously held United Behavioral Health accountable for equitable mental health care coverage. “We simply can’t go backward—in a time of great need—to protect the bottom line of a for-profit company. Access to care is a human right. This ruling is on the wrong side of history,” said Patrick J. Kennedy. Read more here.