The MINDS law: integrating mental health services with foreign aid

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CHANHASSEN, Minnesota – Before the pandemic, nearly a billion people worldwide suffered from mental disorders. Uncertain conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have only increased cases of depression, anxiety and stress, especially for those with financial difficulties. On June 17, 2021, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), along with Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL-22) and Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC-2), presented Mental Health in International Development and the Humanitarian Settings Act, or MINDS Act, to integrate psychological health services into overseas aid programs. If passed, the law would support countless people with mental health problems and illnesses.

The link between poverty and mental health

Poverty and mental health interact in what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls a “vicious cycle”. Those living in poverty often do not have the adequate resources to support themselves, to access mental health care, or to obtain an education or a job. These circumstances increase the chances of developing a mental health disorder. On the other hand, mental disorders can prevent individuals from working and can be a cause of discrimination due to the established stigma, increasing the chances of individuals to live in poverty. In addition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression and anxiety disorders cost global markets $ 1 trillion each year due to lack of economic productivity.

Tumultuous social, political and economic conditions such as poverty and conflict can have a great mental health impact. The WHO reports that mental disorders are almost twice as likely to affect low-income groups as wealthier people, but more than 75% of people with severe mental illness in low-income countries do not get the help they need. Despite its importance, only 2% of the world’s health budgets are allocated to mental health.

The conditions that facilitate mental well-being are also extremely important for development. According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Poverty and deprivation are key determinants of children’s social and behavioral development and adult mental health. Unfortunately, two thirds of the children people around the world reside in countries experiencing conflict – instability that could affect mental health in the long run.

COVID-19 and mental health

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased rates of mental health disorders around the world due to unpredictable health and economic conditions. In addition, the increase in cases of mental illness disproportionately affects people living in poverty. Job loss, death of a loved one, isolation, possible exposure to COVID-19, and violence resulting from close contact with abusers have all contributed to an increase in mental health disorders during the pandemic. In addition, the interruption of studies and social interaction were particularly difficult for children and could seriously affect their cognitive and social development.

The pandemic has also limited access to essential services. The risk of infection prevents face-to-face meetings with mental health professionals and entry into long-term institutions. This is particularly difficult for low-income countries which lack sufficient health workers, the technology for remote services and the necessary medical equipment. Additionally, 93% of mental health services were unable to stay active during COVID-19, demonstrating the urgent need for the MINDS law and mental health programs in foreign aid initiatives.

MINDS law

Biparty legislation, introduced by Senator Casey in the Senate and by German representatives and Wilson in the House of Representatives, aims to permanently integrate mental health services into foreign aid programs. If passed, the MINDS law would codify the role of the USAID Coordinator for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) who would “oversee and support the integration of MHPSS into US overseas aid programs. For those who need psychological support. This programming would be integrated into all USAID offices and would respond to the needs and cultural norms of each community, devoting specific resources to care for children in difficulty.

The MINDS law would also establish an SMSPS working group managed by the USAID coordinator. This group, made up of USAID officials and State Department officials, would monitor the effectiveness, persistence, and quality of the programs. The law also requires USAID to report to Congress on the progress of the bill’s initiatives, including its finances and any obstacles that arise.

Progress of the MINDS law

In a press release on June 17, Senator Casey underscored the urgent need for the programs outlined in the act. “Meeting mental health needs is particularly important as we consider the effects of COVID-19 on communities around the world, especially communities already in conflict,” said Senator Casey. “Investing in the mental health and well-being of children ensures that they continue to thrive into adulthood and can help break cycles of poverty and violence and develop their country’s future potential.” . “

In addition to the Borgen Project, Heartland Alliance International, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the International Rescue Committee, the RISE Institute, Save the Children and UNICEF USA have all praised this revolutionary legislation.

After its introduction in Congress, the law must be published by the House and Senate committees and receive a majority vote in both houses in order for the president to sign the law. The MINDS Act is the first U.S. bill to require mental health services in overseas aid programs and, if passed, would be revolutionary in meeting the global need for psychosocial health care. To help get the bill passed, U.S. citizens can contact their congressional leaders and ask for their support for the MINDS Act.

– Sarah Stolar
Photo: Pixabay

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