SEATTLE, Washington — The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act (H.R.3988/S.2105) seeks to improve the overall integration of mental health services in U.S. foreign service. With a particular focus on vulnerable groups such as women and children, this bipartisan Act would allow for the codification of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Coordinator for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). In addition, it would establish an MHPSS working group to further develop substantial U.S. foreign assistance mental health programming.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the MINDS Act on June 17, 2021. He reflected on the importance of the act, saying, “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.” The MINDS Act has received endorsement from a number of influential and well-respected groups, including UNICEF, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Why is the MINDS Act Important Now?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, mental health issues already impacted the lives of approximately 14% of children and adolescents worldwide. The bill is now especially timely given the adverse effects of COVID-19 on many young people’s mental health and overall well-being.
According to the CDC, the main mental health challenges that children and adolescents have faced during the pandemic include changes in important aspects of life such as schooling, health care and daily routines. In addition, being unable to participate in meaningful life events as well as a diminished sense of security and well-being, are significant mental stressors. Senator Casey noted these factors, saying, “The mental health needs around the world have never been greater… We need a government-wide mental health and psychosocial support strategy.”
The MINDS Act is also important due to the strong link between mental health issues and poverty. In fact, common mental disorders are “twice as frequent” in impoverished communities compared to the rich. Further, there is a cyclical relationship between living in poverty and developing a mental illness. Specifically, poverty heightens the risk of mental disorders while having a mental disorder increases the likelihood of descending into poverty.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report found that investments in mental health programming have far-reaching societal impacts. The report wrote, “From a range of different analytical perspectives, there are sound arguments that support greater attention to and investment in mental health, including the protection of human rights, improved health and well-being, reduced social inequalities and enhanced economic productivity and efficiency.”
What Nonprofits are Addressing Similar Issues?
In addition to the legislative approach of the MINDS Act to improve mental health services, many nonprofit organizations are also actively working towards improving global investments in mental health resources. The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), for instance, is an international membership organization that works with the public and governments to gain awareness of mental health issues. In addition, it also strives to provide comprehensive resources for treatment, prevention and recovery from mental disorders.
Another notable group is Partners in Health, which is a nonprofit based in Boston, Massachusetts. Since its founding in 1987, Partners in Health has worked to bring high-quality healthcare services to global areas in need of more investments in such mental health services. Its mental health programs have seen incredible results. For example, they have provided more than 9,500 individuals with mental health care, totaling more than 55,000 visits annually.
If the MINDS Act passes, it could have a significant impact on alleviating mental health issues around the world. Since there is a high correlation between poverty and mental health issues, the Act could have a hand in reducing poverty over time.
– Nina Lehr