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Rep. Seth Moulton: Mental Health in America

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“When he went to the VA to get help, they told him that their next mental health appointment was in 3 months—even though he was thinking of committing suicide that very night. That’s unacceptable.”

Rep. Seth Moulton has represented Massachusetts’s 6th congressional district since 2015. Prior to being elected to Congress, Mr. Moulton served in the United States Marine Corps and completed four tours in Iraq. While in Congress, Rep. Moulton has been vocal on a number of issues from guns to improving mental healthcare for veterans. He has also been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump. In 2018, Rep. Moulton also gained attention for suggesting Democrats consider an alternative to Rep. Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Rep. Moulton announced his candidacy for President of the United States on April 22nd. In this written interview, Rep. Moulton answers Merion West’s questions about mental health issues currently facing the United States, a pillar of Rep. Moulton’s presidential campaign.

How has the issue of mental health been treated by previous candidates, of either party, running for president?

We’ve never had a real conversation around mental health in America. Whether in politics or everyday life, civilian life or military life, we need to come together and end the stigma surrounding mental health—and that begins by sharing our own stories. I hope telling my own story of living with post-traumatic stress opens the door for discussions about the importance of mental healthcare in this country.

Depression is back in the spotlight, with books such as Lost Connections by Johann Hari published last year trying to make sense of the increasing levels of anxiety we are seeing today, particularly among young people. Some, including Hari, see social causes being as strong as biological ones; and this all comes at a time when the effectiveness of antidepressants, particularly for anxiety, is up for debate. How can we, as a country, best address this situation?

The dramatic rise of depression and loneliness is a crisis in America we need to mobilize to overcome. That means requiring mental health check ups for active duty military and those returning home from combat; it means repurposing 511 to become a Mental Health Crisis Hotline; and it means funding mental health training for every high schooler in America. In short, we need to make a mental healthcare checkup as routine as a physical or getting your teeth cleaned for everyone in America, and if we do, we can address depression more effectively than ever before.

Among young people, we have seen studies from which we might conclude that ADD/ADHD drugs are arguably being overprescribed, with the number of diagnoses of the condition more than doubling between 2005 and 2014. Are we misdiagnosing some young people? Is there something else at play? 

While we may be misdiagnosing some young people, the rising prevalence of ADD/ADHD could also be explained by the way our society has changed in the last ten years with the prevalence of social media and our attachment to digital devices. We need health screenings for young people in America—beginning at an early age—not only to correctly diagnose them but to eliminate the stigma around mental health before it takes root. 

Touching briefly on veterans, an area of focus you have been very vocal on, we chatted with Senator Isakson, the Senate VA Chair, last month on the VA MISSION Act and its enhanced provisions for seeking to counter the suicide rates and drug use among veterans. You voted for the bill. What are your thoughts on now has been signed into law and is playing out?

The VA MISSION Act helps to modernize our nation’s VA system through expanded telehealth programs. As the only 2020 candidate who receives healthcare through the VA, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of our VA network firsthand. Recently, a friend of mine who I served with texted me to say that he was thinking of committing suicide. When he went to the VA to get help, they told him that their next mental health appointment was in 3 months—even though he was thinking of committing suicide that very night. That’s unacceptable. 

My hope for the VA MISSION Act is that it will help streamline the process for situations like my friend’s. It is too early to say with certainty how the law is playing out, but I always support better and faster care for those who’ve risked their lives for our country. 

What is the biggest factor in changing how America thinks about mental health? 

We need to make it normal. More Americans kill themselves every year than die in car accidents according to the CDC. And more than 50% of American adults who struggle with mental illness don’t get the care they need according to a report by Mental Health America. But we hardly talk about it as a country. 

We need to share our own stories, end the stigma around mental health, and make mental healthcare as routine as a physical (particularly for our veterans and young people). If we do, then we can begin to solve the crisis that we’ve ignored for too long.

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Harold A Maio
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Harold A Maio

—-Whether in politics or everyday life, civilian life or military life, we need to ———–come together and end the stigma “surrounding” mental health

Actually, we need to stop teaching one another there is a stigma. We need to stop supporting those who do. We have done enough harm with that lesson.