Q&A: Mental Health Matters

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley


Q: How are you working to raise awareness for mental health wellness?


A: From my leadership assignments in the U.S. Senate, I’ve worked to expand access to behavioral health services for individuals and families coping with pressures from the opioid epidemic, natural disasters and COVID-19. From farmers, police officers and veterans managing the stress of their vocations, to children and teenagers, foster youth, juvenile offenders and families managing substance abuse disorders and addiction, I’m leading efforts to improve coordination of care among health care providers, end the stigma often attached to mental health diseases and close the gap for mental health resources, particularly for those living in rural communities. At one of my county meetings, I observed a tele-psychiatry demonstration in Decatur County where local residents can access services from mental health specialists in Kansas City. During the pandemic, connecting patients and providers through telehealth appointments affirmed how important it is to expand rural broadband to every corner of the state. During a recent Finance Committee hearing where lawmakers examined proposals to pay for infrastructure, I used my seat at the policymaking table to advocate on behalf of Iowans for rural broadband as critical infrastructure in local communities. From telehealth to distance learning, telecommuting and e-commerce, rural broadband will help ensure rural Americans aren’t left behind, including those seeking mental health supports and services.


The pandemic created unprecedented hardships for families of all walks of life. People’s mental resilience has been tested by the loss of loved ones, the closure of small businesses and schools, unemployment, social isolation, lingering physical side effects from the virus and missed milestones and family gatherings. These invisible burdens impact family dynamics, livelihoods, school experiences and productivity in the workplace. As light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel brings our economy and daily life back to normal, it’s important for policymakers to help bridge the gap between the mental health care needs of Americans and access to quality, affordable health care. In addition to stress stemming from the pandemic, I also hear from Iowans still coping with the aftermath of the derecho, from the financial hit they’ve taken to get back on their feet, and the uncertainty farmers faced getting wind-damaged crops out of the ground. When the weight of the world seems too heavy to bear, I encourage Iowans experiencing anxiety, depression and stress to reach out and seek help. That’s my message to each and every person every day of the year, especially during Mental Health Awareness Month: No one stands alone.


Q: What policies have you advanced to address mental health specific to COVID-19?


A: As COVID-19 swept through our communities, uncertainty infiltrated every nook and cranny of society. Grim statistics reflect the reality of the previous year – suicide was the tenth leading cause of death and drug overdose deaths hit a record high in 2020. At the federal level, former President Trump launched Operation Warp Speed that put in place the historic public-private partnership to develop, produce and roll-out COVID-19 vaccines. In 2020, Congress passed five bipartisan pandemic relief packages to deliver financial lifelines to families, small businesses, health care providers and farmers facing fall-out from the pandemic. The relief measures also recognized the invisible wounds taking a major toll on the emotional well-being of countless Americans. Provisions in these packages boosted funding for behavioral health services and permanently expanded access to mental health telehealth services for Medicare recipients. As then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked to steer pandemic relief funds to expand access to mental health services in local clinics at the community level. For example, an organization in Waterloo opened its doors to provide evidence-based, comprehensive mental health services to Iowans thanks in large part to pandemic relief funding. Last August, Elevate was the first Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic to open since COVID-19. On behalf of Iowans, I’ll continue working to expand access to preventive and behavioral health services that can save lives and restore hope for loved ones who are burdened with anxiety, stress and depression and substance abuse disorders.


May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.


SHARE THESE RESOURCES: The national suicide prevention hotline provides confidential 24/7 service free-of-charge for anyone feeling suicidal crisis or emotional distress at (800) 273-TALK. Or, chat with a counselor online or text HELLO to the crisis text line 741741.


The national Disaster Distress Helpline is open for anyone experiencing crisis or emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call (800) 985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.


The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans, service and family members in crisis with responders at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Reach this dedicated, confidential hotline at (800) 273-8255. Press 1 to talk with a counselor or send a text message to 838255. Or, chat with a VA responder at http://veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat.


Iowans who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can access free counseling over the phone or virtually. More information about this service can be found here https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/IACIO/bulletins/28d7c07.