With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q:  What’s the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month?

A: For 365 days a year, mental health advocates, public policymakers, medical researchers and health care professionals work collectively to support mental health and to bring what is oftentimes an invisible health issue out of the shadows and into the daylight. During Mental Health Awareness month, members of the mental health community across America redouble their efforts to help the 1 in 5 Americans who will experience a mental health condition – from depression, to anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychological, behavioral or emotional stress disorders that affect their quality of life, employability or integration in society.During the month of May, organizers mobilize efforts to spread the word for early intervention and screening. Early diagnosis and treatment, sooner, rather than later, can begin the healing and recovery process with lasting results. By drawing attention to important screening, treatment and recovery for mental health, the pervasive stigma and silence that keeps people from seeking support and medical help is reduced. Remember that every American will be touched by a mental health condition in their lifetimes, either as an individual or through family members, friends, neighbors or co-workers. Mental Health Awareness Month is set aside to set the record straight.  America needs to pull back the cloak of uncertainty in our society. Just as individuals shouldn’t ignore low blood sugar levels or high blood pressure, Americans shouldn’t disregard anxiety, fear, irritability or suicidal thoughts. Diagnosis, treatment, healing and recovery exist for mental health conditions. For too long, people experiencing emotional or psychological symptoms suffered in silence. Much has been achieved to increase the parity of mental health to that of physical health, but more can be done. That’s why we have this month set aside to increase awareness.

Q:  How can public policy keep pace with strides in the delivery of mental health care services?

A: Just as technological innovation has transformed society by raising standards of living and expanding the economic pie for opportunity and mobility, changes in the delivery of health care, including mental health parity, are working to improve the lives of millions of Americans. As a senior lawmaker on the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction of the nation’s health care, tax and spending policies, I’ve led efforts to improve mental health parity at the policymaking tables in Washington. In 2008, I voted for the bipartisan mental health parity law that broke new ground on health insurance coverage for mental health services. Since then, I’ve worked to improve lax enforcement by federal agencies and introduced a bipartisan bill that would require Medicare to provide robust coverage for six classes of pharmaceutical drugs, including medication for schizophrenia and depression. I’m also co-sponsoring the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act to reauthorize and strengthen programs that support early diagnosis and treatment. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I steered Senate passage of the Comprehensive and Addiction Recovery Act earlier this year that includes new tools for mental health treatment linked to opioid or heroin addiction. And as a champion for Rural America, I work tirelessly to make sure those living and working in less populated areas of the country aren’t left behind. I’ve introduced the REACH Act to help keep acute health care services open and close to home in our rural communities and to improve outpatient services that provide mental health services. Expanding access to mental health care services is moving in the right direction. There’s more work to be done. And I will continue listening and working with Iowans who are working on the front lines in their communities to provide preventive services, screenings and treatment for mental health disorders, addictions and other mental health services. National Mental Health Awareness Month is a good opportunity to bring hope and healing to millions of Americans. We’ve made strides to remove the stigma. Let’s turn up the volume to break the silence and reach out to friends and loved ones who would benefit from treatment to improve their behavioral and mental health.

Q: What can people do if they just don’t know where to seek help?

A: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers individuals and family members looking for treatment programs a confidential online resource at findtreatment.samhsa.gov.  The Behavioral Health Treatment Services locator allows people to quickly find their closest resource for treatment and support services for substance abuse, addiction and/or mental illness. People also may contact the 24/7 referral help line by dialing (800) 662-HELP.   The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at (800) 273-TALK.

Q:  What about veterans’ mental health services?

A:  Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line in service to our country.  Wounded warriors return from the front lines with broken bodies and wounds that are more difficult to see. The invisible injuries are often harder to diagnose and treat. Returning from active duty and transitioning to civilian life can be overwhelming in any circumstance, but especially for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression or military sexual trauma. Society owes veterans a debt of gratitude for their patriotism, service and sacrifice. That’s why I work tirelessly to help ensure the federal government keeps its promises to the services and benefits earned by our heroes in uniform, including mental health services. Several years ago, Sen. Tom Harkin and I secured bipartisan legislation called the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act to improve mental health services for at-risk veterans and to help reduce suicide among returning soldiers. An Iraq War veteran from Grundy Center, 22-year-old Joshua Omvig took his own life in 2005 after returning home from active duty. Building on preventive screening and outreach measures included in that law, I co-sponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act that was enacted last year. Most recently, I’m working with Sen. Joni Ernst to advance our bipartisan bill that would allow veterans to receive mental health care from community physicians if the VA can’t see them when they need to be seen. In addition, I’m also co-sponsoring the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act to address the alarming increases in suicide among female veterans. America has a sacred duty to uphold the promises made to our veterans. I’m working to make sure we keep the covenant strong for the legions of heroes whose patriotic service kept America safe from harm.