Gillibrand leads panel on mental health policy

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U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in Manchester on Aug. 20, 2019 (credit – Andrew Sylvia)

MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined a roundtable of elected officials and local health professionals at Amoskeag Health in a discussion about mental health policy.

All five members of the panel agreed that more must be done to place mental health on an equal level with physical health when it comes to healthcare policy.

In particular, the panel agreed that greater equity in access to mental health is not only a moral imperative, but would also be a boon to the economy, with Gillibrand indicating that putting mental healthcare on par with healthcare “below the neck” as the panel often put it would save the country $400 billion per year in treatment and lost productivity stemming from unexpected illness from stress and anxiety.

Members of the panel indicated that the state of mental healthcare in New Hampshire has gotten to the point where patients often have to wait for weeks to obtain an appointment, leading general practitioners such as Dr. Maria Boylan to be forced into providing partial psychological care.

Boylan, a member of the panel and a doctor at Elliot Family Medicine in Bedford, says that up to 75 percent of her patients have some kind of psychological illness and its become part of her role to address those issues to the best of her ability since the support infrastructure is lacking elsewhere to help her patients.

“I’d much rather treat the whole person than see them as an individual part, but I didn’t realize how much of that includes mental health and psychiatry, which wasn’t a big part of my training in medical school,” she said. “I didn’t realize I wouldn’t have the supports to support my patients who suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and chronic pain, which can all go hand in hand.  I don’t think any of us can really separate out the mental health from the physical health.”

State Senator Tom Sherman (D-Rye), chairman of the New Hampshire Senate Committee on Health and Human Services as well as a practicing gastroenterologist, said that in addition to uncertain funding from the federal government, opposition to mental health funding from Governor Chris Sununu had exasperated the problem.

Sherman specifically mentioned Senate Bill 5, a bill he stated that would provide appropriations for mental health services in New Hampshire, which was vetoed by Sununu.

Sherman said that the veto of Senate Bill 5 will result in lower pay for mental health providers across the state starting in January.

“Fundamentally what I want to get across, and we know this as physicians, these are patients live on the line, human beings.,” he said. “Delay in healthcare is malpractice, and we are seeing at least a ninth month delay of care because we do not provide adequate resources to our mental health system in New Hampshire. And it’s available! That’s the part that irks me.”

Gillibrand also mentioned legislation she is working on in Congress to address the issue of funding mental health initiatives and other solutions such as medical school debt forgiveness for mental health professionals who set up their practice in areas with limited access to other mental health professionals.

She also followed on a statement from State Representative Latha Mangipudi (D-Nashua) that in terms of the recent shootings that have impacted the country, mental health issues played a limited role, as other countries also have citizens with mental health problems but do not have the spate of mass shootings that have occurred in the United States.