feature image credit: Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
On Monday, Hillary Clinton unveiled a proposed plan to improve access to mental health care, which includes launching a national suicide prevention initiative, improving training for police officers to deescalate situations where people are in mental health crisis and investing in brain and behavioral research. Clinton’s new plan calls for prioritizing mental health care and putting it on par with physical health care when it comes to access or quality of treatment. “The next generation must grow up knowing that mental health is a key component of overall health and there is no shame, stigma, or barriers to seeking out care,” it says in a fact sheet that lays out Clinton’s plan. In addition, Clinton promises to convene at a White House conference for mental health in her first year as President.
For queer and trans women and non-binary folks, this is a really hopeful announcement because countless studies have showed we’re more likely to suffer from mental health disorders than straight, cis women or men. Almost half of all transgender people say they experience anxiety or depression and an alarming 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide compared to only 5 percent of the general population. Lesbians and bisexual women report higher rates of anxiety and depression than straight women, with bisexual women reporting even higher rates than lesbians. LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide and two times more likely if they’re questioning than straight kids. And, of course, if you’re a person of color, you’re even more likely to suffer from mental health problems and have less access to mental health care than white people. It’s not a secret what contributes to LGBT people’s mental health problems — we have to deal with a ton of stress from the discrimination in our legal system and social stigma that comes from being queer and/or trans. So it’s refreshing to hear a presidential nominee has an action plan to address these matters at a national level.
One of the way’s Clinton’s plan could greatly impact the LGBT community is by creating a national initiative around suicide prevention led by the Surgeon General and the adoption of evidence-based suicide prevention and mental health programs in high schools, colleges, and universities. The plan specifically talks about ensuring students of color and LGBT students are receiving adequate mental health coverage.
Clinton’s platform also talks about the importance of diagnosing mental illnesses early — calling for a public understanding that many mental health issues begin in childhood or adolescence, ramping up efforts to better train pediatricians and school staff to identify mental health problems with children, and ensuring college students have access to mental health services.
The platform further delves into how mental health care interacts with the criminal justice system, noting as it is now, the criminal justice system is the “front line” of engagement with people with mental health problems. Clinton hopes to prioritize treatment rather than punish low-level non-violent offenders by investing in recovery programs. The plan also acknowledges how law enforcement consistently deals with situations involving people with mental health problems but receive minimal training in how to handle them, which often becomes deadly. A recent study shows up to half of all people killed by the police in the US are disabled, with the majority of those cases categorized as “mental illness.” Clinton wants to “ensure adequate evidence-based training for law enforcement on crisis intervention and referral to treatment, so that officers can properly and safely respond to individuals with mental illness during their efforts to enforce the law.”
This plan sounds promising and could significantly impact millions of Americans lives. Let’s hope this opens up more doors for politicians to fight for greater access to mental health care.