Hillary Clinton put forward a package of initiatives Monday aimed at improving the plight of tens of millions of Americans coping with mental illness and pledged, if elected president, to hold a White House conference on the issue within her first year in office.
The plan, the Democratic nominee said, seeks to fully integrate mental health services into the nation’s health-care system during her tenure as president. Measures include a national suicide prevention initiative, higher payments for providers in the Medicaid program, an emphasis on treatment over jail for low-level criminal offenders with mental health issues and the creation of new housing and job opportunities.
Clinton also pledges increased investment in brain and behavioral science research and to fully enforce prior laws that require mental health coverage to be an essential benefit in health insurance plans.
During a conference call Monday afternoon with mental health providers and other interested parties, Clinton, who was in the midst of a fundraising trip to the Hamptons, said it might seem unusual for a presidential candidate to be taking on this issue.
But, she said, "This is what I've been hearing about. ... Mental health is on the minds of families in every corner of our country. ... We've got to break through and break down the personal stigma and shame."
The policy roll-out was the latest from a candidate who has sought to make a virtue out of her wide-ranging and detailed policy agenda in her race against Republican Donald Trump. Last week, Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, touted a series of steps to help small businesses, holding a round-table discussion and national conference call to draw attention to their new initiatives.
Clinton’s mental health agenda overlaps some with a plan to address drug and alcohol addiction, which was a focus during her Democratic nominating contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
According to a government study, about 1 in 5 adults — or 43.6 million people — had a mental illness in 2014, with nearly 10 million of those experiencing a serious condition, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
The same study said that 2.8 million adolescents had a major depressive episode during the past year.
Clinton’s plan also cites the burdens of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing post-traumatic stress and depression, and the “complicating life circumstances” of Americans grappling with drugs and addiction, as well as homelessness.