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  • Public Policy

    MHA advocates for legislation that affects
    the lives of people with mental health
    conditions and their families.

Policy Issues

Mental Health Policy

Mental Health America (MHA) takes a unique approach to policy. MHA believes policy should ask people what they need to live the lives they want and support them in getting there. Recovery is founded on the principle that people can take on meaningful roles in the community despite mental health challenges when they receive the support they need. MHA's goal is recovery for all. There is nothing more important than allowing everyone, and those they care about, the chance to live the life they want with meaningful roles in the community.

In the history of treatment of people with mental health problems, our system has done a poor job at protecting people. The story of the Mental Health Bell is a reminder that we cannot return to a system where people are shackled, mistreated, and otherwise forgotten. Since 1909, MHA has fought to improve the system for individuals who struggle with mental health problems.

Unfortunately, the fight is not over. MHA and our affiliates continue to fight to ensure access to treatment; improve quality of treatment; reduce homelessness, incarceration, and discrimination; and ultimately move our system towards a better mode - one where people are treated with dignity and early intervention and prevention of mental health problems is prioritized.

What We Fight For

Mental Health America (MHA) – founded in 1909 – is the nation's leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting overall mental health.  Our work is driven by our commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, integrated care, services, and supports for those who need it, with recovery as the goal. 

In response to the murder of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, and many other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, MHA is undertaking a review of how its policy work could more effectively advance equity. Over a period of more than eight months and with input from a range of mental health and racial equity stakeholders, MHA created an initial rubric that helps the policy team ensure that its work promotes equity, as well as an initial larger framework that provides more detailed guidance. These documents are versions in use by MHA as of March 4, 2021 to help us evaluate through an equity lens the development of and our potential support for public policy initiatives affecting behavioral health. We will make revisions as we gain deeper insights. Future versions will be dated and supersede earlier ones.

As part of our cohesive effort, MHA staff, Board Members, and Committee Members have researched, written, reviewed, and approved position statements that cover a large number of policy issues that we care about. The members of our Board and Committees are consumers, family members, advocates, lawyers, scientists, practitioners, and political leaders who bring their vision and expertise to support these efforts. Each position statement provides an overview of where we stand on each issue, a background of the issue, and a call to action that lists specific changes we want to see. These position statements provide a foundation by which we fight for a better system.

MHA collaborates with scientists, practitioners, policy experts, advocates, and other community leaders to design policy recommendations that promote:

MHA works to move forward these ideas through activities that include federal and state legislative and regulatory reform, building public understanding of the issues, weighing in on key court cases, and collaboration with other advocates and coalitions to improve our system.

Our position statements cover the main topic areas below:

System Transformation Rights and Privacy Treatment and Access Children's Mental Health Criminal Justice and Mental Health Procedural Issues Linkage to Broader Issues

View all of our position statements

What's Happening In 2023: Policy Agenda

Our top priorities this year include:

1. Access to and Accountability for Mental Health Care and Supports

Access to mental health care that promotes healing and recovery should be easy and affordable. Providers of mental health services should be held accountable for outcomes and the person’s experience. MHA will work at the national and state levels to enforce parity and improve networks. We will support Medicaid expansion and other proposals to expand coverage and fight efforts to restrict access to coverage and treatments. We will oppose efforts to place undue barriers on access to treatments and fight for continued telehealth flexibilities. We will partner to develop policy solutions to promote integrated mental health care in primary care and primary care within mental health services and support the use of digital tools to provide more effective and accessible care. 

2. Equity

MHA will work to address issues related to mental health care access, effectiveness, and relevance in Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities that face historic disinvestment. MHA will call out racism and other forms of discrimination as a mental health issue and continue to fight it. We will support increased pathways for BIPOC communities to become part of the mental health workforce. We also will call out the equity implications of integrated behavioral health services in primary care and schools. 

To support this work, MHA created an rubric that helps the policy team ensure that its work promotes equity, as well as an larger framework that provides more detailed guidance. 

3. Financing and Training of the Peer Workforce

MHA will work to increase insurance and Medicare coverage of peer services, and work to implement new policies allowing coverage of peers in integrated care settings and crisis care. We will inform standards for certification across states to maximize opportunities and job mobility for peer workers. We will seek to secure resources and address barriers for training, certification, and livable wages to lead to increased employment, reimbursement, and diversity in the peer workforce.

4. Prevention and Early Intervention for Children, Youth, and Young Adults

Much of MHA’s work is guided by the philosophy that mental health conditions should be prevented and treated before a crisis. We will seek to share information on how states are implementing K-12 school-based education, youth peer support, and in-school mental health services to prevent and intervene early in mental health conditions. We will also work to ensure mental health care is available in elementary and higher education and that college students receive appropriate accommodations and services to thrive. MHA will advocate for value-based payment and other reimbursement incentives that reflect an early intervention and prevention philosophy. MHA will support upstream efforts to address social media, adverse childhood experiences, and trauma and their impact on mental health.

5. Suicide Prevention and Access to Crisis Care

MHA supports alternatives to emergency rooms and criminal justice involvement in crisis response. With the passage of the new 9-8-8 number for suicide prevention and mental health crises, there is an opportunity to create a continuum of crisis care that ensures mental health responses to mental health crises, deflects from the criminal justice system, and prioritizes equity, particularly for BIPOC communities. We will also advocate for preventing crises and designing a crisis system that is responsive to youth and families. MHA supports additional funding for crisis and diversion services, especially peer support and respite services. We will work with police departments, gun shops, firearms owners to do in-reach, promote screening and ensure safety in the home.

6. Public Health Approach to Mental Health

MHA will promote a public health approach to mental health. We will work with state health officials, federal agencies, and stakeholders to develop a framework and coordinate efforts to address mental health through public health approaches. We will also educate state and local officials about the historical harms of involuntary treatment policies as a response to increasing homelessness and costs of living and promote supported housing, peer support, and other community-based alternatives. MHA will promote requirements for providers to screen for and connect people to resources to address social determinants of mental health and work with partners to increase access to housing, employment, and other determinants.

Bills Introduced In The 118th Congress

The 118th Congress has just begun. MHA will continue to provide legislative updates in accordance with our 2023 policy priorities as bills are introduced throughout the congressional session:

  • Prevention For All
  • Early Identification And Intervention For Those At Risk
  • Integrated Treatment For Those Who Need It
  • Recovery As The Goal

Recent Actions And Resources

MHLG Coalition Letter to Congress on End of Year Priorities

Letter to Senate Finance Committee requesting inclusion of peer services in integrated care and mobile crisis teams

Letter to Senate & House leadership seeking inclusion of mobile crisis teams

Letter to Congress to promote implementation of new 988 number & crisis response services

Letter in support of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act

Statement on Gun Violence

Youth Crisis Guidelines Letter to HHS

SUPPORT LETTER: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Implementation Act Information and Resources

Child and Adolescent Mental and Behavioral Health Principles

STATEMENT: Peers in Medicare Act

SUPPORT LETTER: House Medicare Peer Support Legislation

ONE PAGER: New Funding is Available for Community-Based Mental Health Services

ONE PAGER: New Funding is Available for Mental Health Mobile Crisis Teams

STATEMENT: The Need for a National Strategy to Maximize COVID-19 Vaccination for People with Serious Mental Illness

Q&A: Drawing Down COVID-19 Relief Funding for States and Organizations

FAQ: Understanding 988 and How It Can Help with Behavioral Health Crises

REQUEST LETTER: For Behavioral Health in Third COVID-19 Package

STATEMENT: Leaders of Nation's Charitable Nonprofits Urge Congress to Go Further

REQUEST LETTER: COVID-19 Relief and Economic Stimulus Package

COMMENT LETTER: FCC 988 Designation


ISSUE BRIEF: Digital Therapeutics

The Regional Policy Council

MHA's Regional Policy Council (RPC) works with seven of our most knowledgeable affiliate public policy or executive directors across 4 regions in the country. The relationship between states and the federal government can be confusing, particularly for advocacy work. To learn what distinguishes the states from the federal government in terms of mental health, read our introduction to The Federal and State Role in Mental Health.

The Regional Policy Council

The State Of Mental Health In America Report

Each year, MHA gathers and provides up-to-date information about disparities faced by individuals with mental health problems as a tool for creating change. Read The State of Mental Health in America to learn more about the data on mental health prevalence and treatment throughout the United States that informs our policy work.

The State Of Mental Health in America Report

How You Can Help

Become an advocate in your state: Sign up for our Advocacy Network emails to get alerts and take action now on critical issues that matter to you. Learn how to inform elected officials about critical mental health and substance use issues in your community. Download the Act B4Stage4 Toolkit for content and tools to help you talk to federal and state legislators!

Join a webinar to learn more about policy issues and advocacy: Our Webinars are a great source of information on areas that matter to MHA presented by MHA staff, affiliates, and other leaders and innovators in the field of mental health services and policy.

Participate in an upcoming event: Watch a recording of our virtual Policy Institute to learn more about prevention and early intervention for mental health.

We are always interested to learn more about what others are doing and how they want to get involved with us to improve our system. Please feel free to reach out to any of our staff to get involved.