By Lexington Souers

Policymakers and industry professionals gathered in Chicago April 29-30 to discuss the future of mental health policy with the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED).

The National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy reviewed presentations and expert panels before joining breakout sessions highlighting workforce mental health policy. Topics included behavioral health coverage, individual placement and support programs, and workplace care and support.

The task force first met in January to begin discussing mental health care in the workforce.

“When we met in January [in Charleston], it was just the beginning of [Maryland’s] session, so I had all of these great ideas…” said Maryland Sen. Katherine Klausmeier. “It was very enlightening for me to hear all the things we had talked about. Once I got back to session, it was all there. We really worked toward it.”

Following several panels and informational sessions, members gathered in four subcommittees to discuss key takeaways and policy goals.

“One of the things that caught my eye was the apprenticeships,” said Arkansas Rep. Frances Cavenaugh, referencing a panel on “Expanding the Behavioral Health Workforce.” “We’ve done a lot of the groundwork [in Arkansas]. Now, we need to look at pay and certification.”

Overall, policymakers recognize the importance of uniting all stakeholders for the betterment of mental health care, regardless of political affiliation.

“You’ve got to bring everyone to the table and say, ‘We’ve got a problem. How can we fix it?’” said Rep. Jim Gregory, sparking a discussion on how to better involve members from both parties. “My comment has no judgement to it. It’s just, lets recognize what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Contributing to discussion of another subcommittee was Washington Rep. Linh Thai, who serves as the task force’s co-chair. Thai recognizes the challenges those in the minority may face in implementing the task force’s recommendations.

“It was not always that we were the majority; we were in the minority…It should not ever be about the majority or the minority. It should not ever be about democrat or republican, because it’s a human issue,” Thai said. “At the same time, I recognize your work and your fight will be much harder than many of us, for that I am grateful that you continue to be in this space, doing this work, attempting to take whatever it is being recommended.”

Subcommittee members highlighted the need to promote task forces, grants for corporate businesses and loan repayment programs, along with modeling workplace policies, increasing employment for minorities and underserved populations with mental health disabilities, and including advertising or community outreach in a bill or programs administration. “I think the state has to model it. One person, one company can’t do everything,” said Nevada Rep. Pat Spearman. “When you put your money where your mouth is, you show you’re serious.”

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