U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is one of the prime advocates for a $100 million effort to create a new Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Network.
The bipartisan proposals want the Biden administration to offer grants to nonprofits and other groups who are on the front lines of the mental health and overdose crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and all the economic and social shutdowns.
We support the effort led by Van Hollen and other lawmakers, like Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa., 1st) and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y., 24th).
We do, however, wonder if $100 million is enough to help with the upsetting rise in fatal drug overdoses and mental health challenges seen in Maryland and across the country.
Drug overdoses — including deadly ones — are also up during the pandemic across the state and the country.
We are also seeing increases in anxiety, depression and other challenges as the stresses and isolation of the pandemic and government COVID-19 orders take their collective and individual tolls. Lost jobs, pay cuts and social isolation are painful for many of our friends and neighbors.
Lawmakers pushing for the $100 million fund deserve credit and support. One look at the Pentagon’s budget, for example, shows $100 million is a drop in the bucket in terms of federal spending.
Mental health and addiction have been swept under the rug for far too long and not dealt with adequately. That includes during the COVID-19 pandemic where public health and the economy dominated many debates and discussions.
What got lost in the mix were the mental health and addiction ramifications of economic shutdowns and social isolation. Those have increased anxiety levels and resulted in some relapses for those in recovery — sometimes with tragic results.
The federal effort has bipartisan sponsors in both chambers. That is a good sign considering the current divisions in Washington.
We also hope efforts to spotlight the mental health crisis are not overshadowed by other political issues. These are important topics that deserve long overdue attention.
There are nonprofit and other groups in Southern Maryland doing heroic work to help those with behavioral health and substance abuse challenges. Their workers are saving lives every day.
Those groups have seen caseloads and calls for help increase even as their operations have been restricted at times by COVID-19 orders and their fundraising has seen decreases.
We hope Van Hollen’s effort gains traction in Washington. We hope the right level of investments are made to address the crisis we are facing locally and nationally.
We also hope that these types of efforts open our eyes and focus our energy on helping our friends, relatives, neighbors and coworkers with mental health challenges and battling addiction now during the pandemic and going forward.