Why You Should Pay Attention To The Presidential Candidates’ Mental Health Agenda

October 20, 2016  |  

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Many people are one-issue voters, even in this wacky election season, and I will admit that the issue I care about most is the presidential candidates’ mental health agenda. Admittedly, I pay attention to this information because I and many people that I know suffer from a mental illness. But of equal importance to our community is the way the mental health system impacts healthcare access, the criminal justice system and in-school counseling for children. So let’s take a look at what each candidate has to say about mental health and how the proposed changes would impact the Black community.

As is expected given her long-term commitment to health care, Hillary Clinton has a very comprehensive mental health agenda that covers multiple areas of mental health: early intervention/suicide prevention; mental health parity; training for law enforcement and treatment over jail; access to housing/jobs; and brain and behavioral research.

Clinton’s early intervention platform will address disparities in diagnosis at the infant and childhood level. Research shows that children who experience trauma and sub-optimal parental involvement are likely to develop mental health problems early in life. And a study on PTSD revealed that African American children are more likely than other groups to experience childhood trauma, and more likely than other groups to seek treatment for the effects of that trauma. That kind of untreated stress leads to problems in adulthood like depression, anxiety and other conditions that can be debilitating. Focusing on childhood mental illness triggers would have a positive effect on the overall well-being of Black Americans of all ages.

Another part of Hillary’s mental health platform addresses suicide prevention. In recent years, the suicide rate among Black boys and young men has increased significantly. In 2012, suicide was the ninth leading cause of death among Black children, surpassing the rate of white children. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association estimated that 5-10% of Black men of college age experience depression, leading to suicidal impulses. We can see these statistics at large in the recent confessions of rapper Kid Cudi and Adrien Broner. Broner’s alleged violence towards a waitress is a symptom of mental health issues, more so than his Instagram suicide note. These black men, among others in the public eye who’ve died from suicide, may have benefited from an earlier understanding of depression and suicidality, as would be provided in high schools and colleges under Clinton’s plan.

Clinton’s mental health agenda also addresses the link between incarceration and mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports African Americans are six times more likely than whites to be incarcerated, and 64% of all prisoners suffer from some mental illness. Given these statistics, and the fact that Black people are less likely to seek treatment for mental illness overall, the connection between mental illness and the prison system is very important for our community. Clinton proposes funneling additional funds to local and community organizations that advocate for treatment over incarceration for non-violent offenders. Not only would this action reduce the number of individuals entering prison, it would funnel offenders to needed mental health treatments that would reduce their offenses and keep them in the community.

Donald Trump is less detailed in his mental health agenda, which is wrapped into his overall proposal for healthcare. He focuses his attention on getting treatment for people who are without healthcare in general, which is one of the biggest mental health issues in the black community. His website states:

“We need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones.”

Though non-specific, Trump correctly addresses lack of information, a problem with mental health care in this country. Lack of information, specifically in the Black community, has to do with our perceptions of mental health problems, lack of access to mental health care, and a historical distrust of the medical field, among other things. If a potential Trump administration were to actually increase mental health education and access to African Americans, that initiative alone — if effective — would itself improve the mental health and outlook of our community.

At the end of the day, many issues will impact each individual’s voting decision in November. However, taking the mental health agenda of each candidate into account in the voting decision could result in better overall healthcare for Black Americans.

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