KANEOHE, Hawaii — U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and U.S. Representatives Susan Wild (D-PA-7) and Joe Wilson (R-SC-2) reintroduced the MINDS Act in the U.S. House and Senate in early March 2023. It is the first piece of American legislation to prioritize mental health in foreign aid. Among other things, this piece of legislation aims to establish a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) group to establish healthy working practices for U.S. foreign assistance.
Around 12% of all people – that is 1 billion people – suffer from mental health or substance use problems and disorders. This number raises in areas experiencing conflict. The conflict has a long-lasting effect on the mental well-being of those who experience it, especially children. The MINDS Act aims to improve MHPSS programs worldwide, so that everyone may have access to evidence-based and culturally appropriate mental health care.
What is the MINDS Act?
The MINDS Act aims to amend a previous piece of legislation, Section 135 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. These changes will first appoint an MHPSS Coordinator and commit this coordinator to six duties and prioritize particular groups of people.
The MHPSS Coordinator will form and lead a group to oversee mental health support in U.S. foreign aid, promote the development of mental health foreign aid programs and work with multiple initiatives and organizations in humanitarian aid. These programs should prioritize caretakers, children and other populations at a higher risk of mental health problems. However, they will be designed and carried out to provide resources and support to everyone who needs them.
The bill also provides a timeline for consultation and reporting. In the future, the MINDS Act will not only implement mental health care into American foreign aid programs but also ensure that these are transparent.
Mental Health in Foreign Aid
While everyone can suffer from mental health issues and the situations that exacerbate them, impoverished communities and refugees are at an even higher risk. With higher rates of extreme poverty, food and water insecurity and a lack of social support, refugees are at greater risk of suffering from mental health problems.
Mental health support officers working with UNHCR have begun to notice this problem in refugee camps. People living in these camps do not have the resources necessary to cope with the grief and trauma from their experiences, leaving them without a way to address these problems in a healthy manner.
The practice of including mental health support in foreign aid and humanitarian assistance is relatively new. As professionals begin to better understand the risk of mental health issues in refugees and impoverished communities, this will change. Already, organizations such as UNHCR and the World Health Organization (WHO) have begun building mental health support programs such as the ones that the MINDS act outlines.
The Importance of Mental Health in Foreign Aid
It is well understood that a healthy psychological support system in childhood leads to healthy coping mechanisms later in life. Although mental health issues are not as visible as physical problems, they are equally important, especially in developing children.
Bringing mental health care and support to foreign aid could minimize several risk factors for impoverished communities and refugees. Those suffering from mental illness and mental health problems are at a higher risk for physical health problems and mortality than those without mental illness. By providing safe and consistent resources for people to cope with these issues, mental health care minimizes these risks and increases their overall well-being.
The passing of the MINDS Act would prioritize mental health care in American foreign aid and allow aid programs to be more effective. This will be especially important in areas experiencing conflict, where up to one in five people suffer from mental health or substance use problems and disorders. This legislation would improve MHPSS programs worldwide, so that everyone may have access to evidence-based and culturally appropriate mental health care.
– Christina Albrecht