This Election, Vote With Your Mind

10/18/2016 03:50 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2016
Pioneer Press

By Natalia Gurevich, SWHR Communications Intern

It has been an eventful year for mental health. From new research into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to new speculation linking types of birth control with depression, it’s become apparent that mental health is all-encompassing issue facing this country. With the U.S. election next month, we wanted to consider each presidential candidate’s proposed platform for better mental health services, particularly for women.

Donald J. Trump is the Republican nominee of the 2016 presidential election. Trump has not released a specific platform on mental health, but has an overall stance on healthcare policy reform, which includes mental health. In terms of women’s health, Trump’s focus has been on abortion, and has recently declared that he will support abortion exemptions in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger [9]. As for mental health, Trump would like to develop promising reforms in Congress that will receive bi-partisan support [1]. He states that ailing families aren’t getting the necessary tools or aid they need. Trump has also included a point on mental health for veterans within his 10-point plan to improve life for veterans [4]. Point number 9 calls to, “increase the number of mental healthcare professionals, and allow veterans to seek mental healthcare outside of the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs]” [4]. Earlier this month Trump offended the veteran community by claiming that those who develop mental disorders aren’t “strong,” and “can’t handle it.” [10] After such comments Trump’s official stance on healthcare for veterans is less credible.

While Trump has yet to publish a detailed plan for mental health, he has made related statements on the subject in the past. Last year when discussing gun control laws during a Republican presidential debate, Trump stated “I feel that the gun-free zones and, you know, when you say that, that’s target practice for the sickos and for the mentally ill,” he told CNBC moderators [5]. These comments assume that mental illnesses cause gun violence and a vast majority agree with this belief. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last year, 63 percent of participants—and 82 percent of Republicans—said mass shootings reflect problems in identifying and treating people with mental health problems [5].

However, contrary to this common myth, the huge link between gun violence and mental health is just that—a myth. According to a study last year, tracking done by The National Health Center for Statistics shows that “fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness” [8]. Trump’s comments on mental health and gun control indicate that although he has thought about these two issues together, he hasn’t thought enough about mental health on its own.

To read more on Trump’s overall healthcare reform policy, visit his website.

Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential election. At the end of August, Clinton published a comprehensive proposal for improved mental health services. Clinton is the first presidential candidate ever to propose a comprehensive plan, which is available on her website. Her platform emphasizes de-stigmatization of mental health in the U.S., focusing on early diagnosis and prioritizing treatment instead of prison [2]. Key points from her platform include:

· Promoting early diagnosis and intervention, including launching a national initiative for suicide prevention

· Integrating our nation’s mental and physical healthcare systems so that healthcare delivery focuses on the “whole person,” significantly enhancing community-based treatment

· Improving criminal justice outcomes by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention and prioritizing treatment over jail for non-violent, low-level offenders

· Enforcing mental health parity to the full extent of the law

· Improving access to housing and job opportunities

· Investing in brain and behavioral research and developing safe and effective treatments

Hillary touches on women’s mental health before and after pregnancy and her agenda states, “New studies show as many as 1 in 5 women develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, or mental health disorders in the year after giving birth.” [2] Her plan emphasizes increased screenings for depression during pregnancy, and supporting the mental health of mothers in general [2].

Hillary’s proposal has received widespread support from the medical community, including Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, Ron Honberg, a senior policy adviser at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and from Republican Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a child psychologist and author of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act [6].

“In an interview with Healthline, Angela Kimball, national director for advocacy and public policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) pointed out three major aspects in Hillary’s proposal that work: putting mental health on the same level as physical health, emphasizing early diagnosis, and the section on parity. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which Clinton co-sponsored as a U.S. senator, requires group health plans to provide the same level of benefits for mental health as other medical conditions [3].

Despite Clinton’s detailed plan and the looming possibility of more expense on healthcare, there has been very little criticism reported on her policy from the opposing side. To learn more about the various points in the platform, visit her website.

Clinton and Trump are both running for President this election. Clinton has already provided a detailed proposal with support and praise from a variety of mental health organizations and politicians on both sides of the aisle; however, she hasn’t spoken much about mental health while on the campaign trail, even since unveiling her healthcare platform at the end of August. Trump has not yet provided a comprehensive plan, instead focusing his efforts on overall healthcare reform [7]. Neither candidate has spoken explicitly about women’s health since announcing their healthcare platforms, though Clinton has been active in championing women’s health issues for the duration of her decades-long career in public service. (Editor’s note: The Society for Women’s Health Research presented Clinton with our Dr. Estelle Ramey Award for Women’s Health Leadership in 2015 at our 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner).

Mental health is an issue that impacts nearly every American either personally or through a loved one, and it’s an issue that needs to be on everyone’s minds this election. We need a president who is able to dedicate our energy and resources to enacting a robust mental health plan. On Election Day, we urge you to keep mental health awareness in mind when casting your ballot.

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) hopes that both candidates will pay the deserved attention to sex differences in mental health. SWHR believes mental health is vitally important, and everyone should be given access to the resources they need. Learn more about mental health and the work we do by visiting our website.

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