I often receive calls from people who do not know where to turn for mental health care and/or addiction treatment.
That should not come as a surprise, considering the high prevalence of these health conditions. Anyone who has tried to assist a family member, friend, colleague, or themselves is aware of the chronic challenges in accessing these critical services. And now, the need for services is rising exponentially due to the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest. At the same time, funding is at great risk.
Providers across the country report that many clients’ mental health conditions and addictions have worsened during the pandemic due to isolation, fear about the illness developing in themselves and their loved ones, disruption to their treatment, and economic impacts of the crisis. Others are experiencing mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs) for the first time for the same reasons. New Jersey saw the greatest month-to-month increase in opioid overdose deaths in May, compared with all other months since January 2019, according to the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies.
Children are also experiencing mental health struggles. Many lack supportive home environments and no longer have the supports typically found in schools and from socializing with friends.
Funding for lifesaving mental health and SUD services must not only be sustained in the face of growing need but also increased to both meet the new demand and cover extraordinary expenses incurred to implement safety guidelines during the pandemic. Without sustaining and investing in community-based behavioral health programs, many New Jerseyans will find no one is there to answer their calls for help. The costs to the state will be higher as they head to emergency rooms.
Statistics show that one in four individuals will develop a mental health disorder at some point in time. These are often brought on by stressful and traumatic situations, such as those caused by the pandemic. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 43.1% of adults with mental illnesses nationwide, and only 10.8% of adults with SUDs, received treatment in 2017. Accessing services during the pandemic has been even more challenging, and a surge in demand is expected as the public health crisis continues.
Despite the exploding need for mental health and SUD treatment, funding for these lifesaving services is threatened with excessive cuts. Many programs were already operating with deficits due to inadequate rates and the pandemic reduced revenues further while adding new expenses. If New Jersey’s fiscal year 2021 budget does not maintain prior funding levels, cover new expenses, and invest to meet new demand, the services will not exist to meet New Jerseyans’ needs — a devastating and potentially deadly prospect.
As of April, 45% of adults in the U.S. were already reporting negative mental health impacts of the pandemic, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. A majority of respondents (72%) stated that the pandemic caused “a lot” or “some” disruption in their lives, and 54% reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress related to the coronavirus.
To meet the increased demand and additional COVID-related costs, the 2021 state budget should include testing, personal protective equipment, facility retrofitting costs for social distancing and quarantine, increased staff and staff overtime, telehealth equipment, cleaning supplies, and sanitizing services.
Without adequate funding for mental health care and SUD treatment services, emergency departments will be overwhelmed as tens of thousands more individuals seek care at these facilities because there are no other options.
Mental health and SUD treatment services save dollars and lives. Adequate funding to avoid layoffs and program closures in the community-based behavioral health system is essential for the state’s bottom line — and a healthy New Jersey.