Mental illness does not discriminate based on age, class or ethnicity. It affects all segments of our society, and yet it still carries an unnecessary stigma. Everyone knows someone whose life has been marred by suicide, depression or mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness. Especially in Minnesota, we often do not talk about these struggles, or lend much-needed emotional support when it’s needed.
Perhaps the most insidious problem is the misconception that only severe mental illnesses require of treatment. Like any health condition, a mental illness can quickly worsen without professional intervention — yet less than half of adults affected ever seek treatment.
Over the course of my time in Congress, I have made improving access to mental health care a top priority. This begins with assisting those who need care the most. Due to the nature of their work and lack of available treatment, farmers and ranchers are uniquely susceptible to mental illness. The STRESS Act, which I was able to pass last Congress, renewed the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, providing critical resources to states to deploy mental health assistance for rural communities. Moreover, I was able to secure full funding for the program each year since its authorization.
I have also worked to integrate trauma-informed care into our nation’s social services, specifically for victims of sexual assault — a group that suffers disproportionately from trauma and stress. That’s why I am proud to lead the Abby Honold Act, and continue to push for its enactment before the end of the year.
This bill — named after a rape survivor-turned champion for sexual assault victims — provides training for law enforcement and victim services organizations on evidence based, trauma-informed practices. These practices can help shield victims of assault from re-traumatization.
For those with serious mental illness that requires increased community support, I have worked to ensure patients receive the inpatient care they need. I introduced the Expanding Access to Mental Health Act, which eliminates the arbitrary cap on the number of beds for certain providers of mental health care and allows a patient’s individualized routine of care to be determined by the guidance of a doctor — not a bureaucrat.
Currently, a federal rule prohibits individuals in these facilities from staying longer than 15 days. By closing this loophole, patients will be able to receive the treatment they need and deserve.
I have also pushed for same-day services for veterans, who struggle with higher rates of suicide than almost any other group in our communities. I introduced the Same-Day Accountability Veterans Enhancement (SAVE) Act, which would ensure same-day access for veterans to receive health care. This legislation will shine a light on the process that our nation’s veterans navigate every day. It will bring accountability to same-day treatment options and make sure that no veteran struggling with a mental health crisis is ever turned away.
Every Minnesotan can find ways to support those with mental health problems in their community. No one should feel ashamed for talking about their mental health. Mental health, like physical health, is something we must work to maintain every day — and just like with physical health, that looks different for everyone. For many, maintaining our mental health may simply mean checking in with a loved one or going for a walk. But for those who struggle with larger mental health problems, personal care can require doctor’s visits, medications and sometimes hospitalization. These struggles can happen to any of us, through no fault of our own. It is time to break that stigma and find ways to support each other.
Tom Emmer represents Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House.