Given that this is a presidential election year and given that it’s at this time that every seems to be most political (even though the president is in fact only one person with limited powers in a massive political system) I figured now would be an appropriate time to bring Election 2016 into the picture.
Now I am far from neutral, however for the purposes of this post, I will be simply presenting some information on each candidate with regard to mental health, based on information from the site ontheissues.org. I will discuss each candidate in the order they appear in the image above.
Gary Johnson – Libertarian Party
While I couldn’t find much specifically on former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson’s views of mental health (a search for “mental health” returned zero results), I could find some information on his views of healthcare, which is relevant given that mental illness is first and foremost a medical issue.
Johnson is an opponent of Obamacare, as well as drug prescription subsidies. “Government has never managed any segment of the economy successfully. To expect that it can do so for healthcare – one of the largest segments -” is insanity.
Johnson supports a laissez-faire approach when it comes to medicine, which in theory supports unbridled competition, therefore providing the best insurance packages, pharmaceuticals and care money can buy. So long as your needs are profitable, you’ll be all set.
When it comes to addiction, Johnson supports a harm-reduction approach. “When it comes to … drugs, I advocate harm-reduction strategies, which looking at the drug problem first as a health issue rather than as a criminal justice issue.” What a novel idea! Treat drug addiction instead of criminalizing it. Imagine.
Dr. Jill Stein – Green Party
Searching the website for information on physician Jill Stein’s views on mental health was slightly more productive than with Johnson, with a search returning four results, three of which were related to gun violence & one of which was related to drug use.
“We have to address the other drivers of community violence [which] includes ensuring that mental health services are available to everyone.” So she does not blame the mentally ill, but does feel lack of treatment can lead to negative societal issues.
With regard to drug use Stein says that “if people have issues of dependency which would apply to legal drugs as well as illegal drugs including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and heavier drugs they need to be treated within the public health system. These are psychological problems, not criminal problems. If you don’t treat the problem it only aggravates and compounds it with issues of public safety and criminal violence that are associated with the illegal drug culture”. Again, treatment instead of incarceration – makes sense to me.
Stein is an opponent of Obamacare and supports the creation of a single payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system instead as part of her Green New Deal. Free comprehensive health care anyone?
Donald Trump – Republican Party
Businessman Donald Trump provided as many search results as Stein, except that all of his were related to gun violence.
Asked about the South Carolina shootings (which was phrased as a gun issue, not a racism issue in the Republican debate), Trump said “we have a huge mental health problem in this country. We’re closing hospitals, we’re closing wards, we’re closing so many because the states want to save money. The guns don’t pull the trigger. It’s the people that pull the trigger and we have to find out what’s going on”. That’s a great point – I do think that mental health & social services do end up on the chopping block early on during budget crises.
In a separate interview with Meet the Press, Trump said that guns have nothing to do with gun violence, because the problem is “you have people that are mentally ill. And they’re going to come through the cracks. And they’re going to do things that people will not even believe are possible.” Asked for his explanation, he responded “They’re just sick people. They are mentally imbalanced”. I guess I should order my straitjacket now?
Asked about the 2nd Amendment and whether he supported a law to confiscate weapons from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, Trump told CNN, that “people with mental health problems are on the streets who shouldn’t be” . In a separate CNN interview about the same issues (mentally ill people having access to weapons) Trump said “these are sick people. This has nothing to do with guns, this has to do with the mentality of these people… if you take the guns away from the good people … the bad ones are going to have target practice”. Not sure if by bad people he means the mentally ill? Ouch.
As for drugs, Trump has voiced support decriminalization at various times in the past, taking a stance similar to Johnson and Stein and saying you have to “take the profit away from these drug czars”.
Trump has some conflicting views on healthcare – he’s opposed to Obamacare but says he’s not for single-payer, while also saying “the insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians”. Confused yet?
Hillary Clinton – Democratic Party
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also returned four search results when searching “mental health” on the ontheissues.org website, one to do with seniors and the others to do with veterans. Under certain subcategories she had far more results (fourteen for “mental health” under “healthcare”) but she also has a longer political career than any of her opponents.
For veterans, Clinton stated that the US needs to “synchronize the VA with Medicare & ACA, and also expand services such as childcare, reproductive services, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment”.
During her time in Congress, she sponsored a bill for mental health service for older Americans and co-sponsored a bill improving mental health care benefits for returning veterans.
Regarding the opiate epidemic, Clinton says she’s “laid out a five-point plan … there are too many opioids being prescribed, and that leads directly to heroin addiction. We need more programs, so when somebody is ready to get help, there’s a place to go”. Here, here.
She also has supported drug courts, an alternative to traditional judicial proceedings for drug offenders. “If the person comes before the court, agrees to stay clean, is subjected to drug tests once a week, they are diverted from the criminal justice system. We need more treatment. It is unfair to urge people to get rid of their addiction and not have the treatment facilities when people finally make up their minds to get treatment”. So not as harsh as the War on Drugs, but not as aggressive as the other candidates who advocate decriminalization.
With regard to healthcare, Hillary said in an NBC debate she is “absolutely committed to universal healthcare” and that “we finally have a path to universal health care” but that she does not want to “see the Republicans repeal it” and doesn’t “want to see us start over again with a contentious debate. [She wants] to defend and build on the Affordable Care Act”. So healthcare for all, but not divorced from the insurance companies. Can you say co-pays and deductibles?
Some Closing Thoughts
In brief, the discussion of mental health is negligible and what attention is given is framed for the most part within the context of either a problem (gun violence, substance abuse) or as a special interest affecting only a segment of the population (seniors, veterans). That being said, there is some acknowledgement that mental illness and addiction pose problems significant enough to merit discussion and policy (harm reduction, mental health services available to everyone, decriminalization, drug courts). As a mental health advocate, I would love to see some more in depth discussion of these important issues from each of the candidates. As far as I’m concerned, while everything is interconnected, without good mental health for the American public, it’s going to be a real (and possibly insurmountable) challenge to keep the rest of the American system running. Mental illness must be addressed and concrete, well refined policies must be developed to ensure mental health for all – anything less would be “crazy”.