St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community

St. Olaf College

Oles on the Election

2016 elections and mental health

By Karla Ruiz October 25, 2016

Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.

The choice of voting for a candidate transcends politics. A presidential candidate represents a dominant set of beliefs, social interests and philosophies; however, in the contestation of major concerns, the rest are often ignored. Thus, here I take one such issue, which nonetheless is the reality of thousands of Americans who suffer from it: mental health. Below, I will explore the policies on mental health issues from both candidates.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at least 1 in 5 adults suffer from some type of mental illness in the USA. This is an alarming number because it has been increasing during the last few years. On the optimistic side of the issue, society is becoming more comfortable talking about mental illness but there is still so much more to do, in order to improve the quality of life of millions of Americans who suffer from one of these diseases. The web pages of both candidates were explored, Hillary Clinton has a short, but detailed plan to improve and prevent mental health in case she wins the presidency. While, Donald Trump does not have any specific policy to tackle this prevalent problem.

When one visits Clinton’s webpage it is evident that she offers and proposes seven clear statements to fight mental illnesses. Early diagnosis and prevention are her first point in order to control symptoms and prevention; here she talks about a group effort between pediatricians and schools. Colleges and universities are also part of the plan. It is important to highlight that including institutions of education are central to prevent mental illnesses. In a society such as the American one that values competition and meritocracy, it is easy to leave personal health aside because of busy schedules and hefty compromises. Conversations about the mental state of students are essential to diagnose, and then instill work balance and self care.

In her first point, maternal depression is mentioned, which is impressive since this issue is still tabooed within the mental health discussion, even though at least 1 in 9 women suffer from it every year in the US. Hillary proposes to increase federal support through National Initiative for suicide prevention as her second point. In the third point she focuses on the expansion of community-based treatment by taking care of the “whole person”. She proposes to increase the number of mental health care providers and community health centers. Her fourth statement on the comprehensive agenda centers around a very controversial topic nowadays: Hillary proposes “treatment instead of incarceration for low-level nonviolent offenders and training for law enforcement officers”. This component of her proposal is important because there is a big discussion centered on police brutality against individuals who suffer from mental health illnesses. This will help create a better response from police officers and avoid unnecessary deaths while also decreasing the problem of incarceration in the US. Her fifth point focuses on the defense on the Addiction Equity Act that was signed in 2008 in which she argues for the same level of benefits for patients who require mental health treatments. Finally, in her last point, Clinton proposes to expand community-based housing opportunities, since some individuals with mental diseases also lack jobs and housing opportunities. Her proposal approaches mental health from a more scientific perspective, offering higher investment in behavioral science research.

It must be said that in the case of Donald Trump his webpage offered very little as to his stances on mental health. Research out of his webpage was also conducted but nothing was found. He does talk about the American healthcare system and as a president, Trump promises to get rid of Obamacare. Trump approaches the healthcare system from a neoliberal market perspective, in which (from his perspective) full and unfettered competition in the market will allow prices of medical care to go down while increasing quality and consumer satisfaction. It is conjectured that this approach will also extend to mental health coverage. The candidate also mentions that he will require price transparency from all healthcare providers so individuals could find the best prices to suit their individual needs. Talking about the prices of medication is key in the discussion on mental health because in the first place, many people choose to not get drugs because of their high price.

The main difference between the two candidates is that Clinton does have an agenda when it comes to mental health and Trump does not offer anything in specific. However, on the general health care agenda Clinton does believe in state intervention to treat and prevent mental health issues, while Trump believes in a more private and market oriented approaches to health care. Trump does talk about the price of medications, which is something Hillary does not. However, since she proposes to place more responsibility on the government, this may mean that the government will subsidize or artificially set the prices to cover the cost of medication. Clinton proposes more awareness and support for mental health, while making prevention and intervention priorities for the society in general.

Based on the facts and data that both candidates provide, Hillary Clinton’s position is more sensible since it will allow for improvement and positive outcomes concerning those suffering from mental illness. First, she wants to combat stigma by encouraging discussions on the topic in schools, universities, and hospitals. With fewer stigmas surrounding the topic, patients may feel more comfortable looking for help and assistance. More state intervention will hold politicians and people in general more accountable for health related issues, while encouraging everyone to take responsibility for the promotion of a healthier and more responsible lifestyle. Her proposal does take an economic approach because it will allow individuals to access housing and the marketplace. It does not make them dependent on the system and it allows patients to feel welcomed and a part of the American society. Educating police officers is important to end the current problem of brutality that affects less advantaged individuals that in many cases suffer from mental illness. The scientific approach is important because it does provide the financial needs to further research that will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of mental health. As was mentioned earlier, this election goes beyond politics, and it is on the hands of the voters to choose a future in which Americans suffering from mental health diseases are well positioned to lead better lives.

*The data in this article was obtained from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

About the Author

Karla Lorena H. Ruiz is a St. Olaf College senior from Piura, Peru majoring in Political Science.