Organization working to tackle mental health and addiction crisis in US amid COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified an already alarming mental health and substance abuse problem in the United States, quadrupling symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults and overdose deaths to outpace all previous records for a 12-month period.

To meet the need, the Bipartisan Policy Center is calling on the Biden administration to advance integrating behavioral health and primary care services.

"It's been hugely disruptive. We've seen higher rates of divorced people, forgetting to exercise, they're not sleeping, and they're relying on self-medication, like alcohol, so the effect has been terrible," said Dr. Steve Lau, with the North Texas Preferred Health Partners.

Experts are now recommending that people consider mental health care being addressed as they go to their personal physician for physical health care, integrating health care for both mind and body.

The Bipartisan Policy Center held a symposium on mental health after a year in this pandemic as it released its report: Tackling America's Mental Health and Addiction Crisis.

Calling for integrating behavioral health and primary care, which Andrea Wise-Brown said goes untreated.

"Accessibility is so important, it can be a barrier in regards to getting the mental health services that we need," she explained.

Hybrid health care imagined by teams of mental health professionals and doctors.

"I could see where mental health could also be virtual encounters where one mental health provider will take care of multiple clinics, you know, dozens, and that could really provide increased access," Dr. Lau explained.

"We want to establish these core services and establish quality standards around those services," said Dr. Regina Benjamin, who is a task force member at the Bipartisan Policy Center and Former U.S. Surgeon General. "And so we're asking the Biden administration to help, not just pay for it with more grants, more training, but also to diversity the workforce."

For now, recommendations that could be the prescription to better treat the whole person.

"We welcome the innovation and we hope policy makers can really see this could make a huge difference for so many," Dr. Lau added.