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Academy Task Force Plays Role in Getting Better Handle on Mental Health and Well-Being

Academy Task Force Plays Role in Getting Better Handle on Mental Health and Well-Being

By: Public Policy Department Staff

May marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Mental Health Awareness Month, which focuses on the vital role mental health plays in our overall well-being. It also serves as an opportunity to provide resources and information to support the more than one in five U.S. adults who have experienced mental health illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Academy recognizes the importance of better understanding mental health and substance abuse, both of which are interconnected and covered under the behavioral health umbrella. Last year, its Health Practice Council (HPC) formed the Behavioral Health Task Force, which is examining the state of health coverage for both mental health and substance abuse, as well as the challenges to access and how behavioral health interacts with other HPC priority areas. Its charge? To engage in a listening tour with mental health and substance abuse experts, asking the question: Where can actuaries best add value?

The task force’s future path is still being worked out. Work may include a review of the current coverage of behavioral health care, mental health parity, behavioral work force shortages, integration of behavioral health and physical health care, and behavioral health payment models.

During a behavioral health breakout session at the 2023 Annual Meeting, officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) discussed federal work and initiatives in this space, and a representative from the Senate Finance Committee spoke to federal legislative proposals on behavioral health.

Academy Health Vice President Barb Klever told the HealthCheck newsletter earlier this spring that a better understanding of behavioral health would give key insight into broader health challenges facing this country.

“Behavioral health intersects with many other parts of the health care system and nearly all of the Health Practice Council’s key priorities,” she said. “For instance, behavioral health disorders can be exacerbated by other public health challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In addition, as with physical health care, behavioral health can face equity challenges in terms of differential access and unmet needs.”
NAMI also recognizes that mental health challenges often lead to other health or societal issues:

  • People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions.
  • 33.5% of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2021 (19.4 million individuals).
  • The rate of unemployment is higher among U.S. adults who have mental illness (7.4%) compared to those who do not (4.6%).
  • High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers.
  • Students aged 6-17 with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are three times more likely to repeat a grade.

This issue will continue to be a public policy challenge for the Academy, our elected officials, and our friends and neighbors. As we anticipate the thoughtful work from the Academy’s task force, SAMHSA has some great resources available around mental health and wellness:

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