Editorial – Voters want action on mental health crisis

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

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Momentum continues to build for finally addressing Virginia’s mental health crisis.

If politicians needed any more incentive, a new statewide poll reveals strong, bipartisan support among Virginians for state government to invest in expanding access to treatment and services for people experiencing mental health and substance use challenges.

This month’s survey by an organization called co/efficient found that after hearing the details of a $230 million state budget proposal to enhance behavioral health services, 76% of respondents expressed support for cooperation between the Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate to approve the plan. Support is strong across gender groups (77% among women, 74% among men), partisan affiliation (78% support among Republicans, 77% among Democrats, and 74% among independents), as well as across age groups, ethnic groups and all geographic regions of the state.

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Virginia ranks a pitiful 37th among states in access to mental health services, according to the 2022 Mental Health America state rankings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the share of adults receiving mental health treatment in the previous 12 months increased each year from 2019 to 2021.

As demand for treatment services soars, health care providers continue to struggle with staffing shortages that reduce treatment capacity.

Here are other poll findings, as shared by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association:

  • Nearly three-fourths (72%) of Virginians polled said they believe that improving access to behavioral health services should be a “high priority” for the General Assembly, with strong support for legislative action across age, gender, political and regional groups.
  • Seven in 10 voters surveyed said they would be more likely to support the plan due to its proposed inclusion of funding for more than 30 new mobile crisis teams to respond to calls to Virginia’s 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Hotline to provide urgent help to people in need.
  • Seventy-two percent of the voters polled said they would be more likely to support the plan because it calls for funding to support mental health patient transportation to relieve the burden on police officers who often have to help transport patients in crisis.

The time is now to fix the mental health crisis wrecking our state.