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Mental Health and Substance Abuse are Public Health Issues, HHS Official Says

A top administrator from the federal Department of Health and Human Services came to Pittsburgh on Friday to speak to leaders in the mental health community about the push to recognize mental health and substance abuse issues as a public health issue.

“I think a lot of people, especially in the public, have viewed mental health and substance abuse as sort of a social problem,” said Pamela Hyde, administrator of SAMSHA, the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Hyde was in Pittsburgh to speak to a couple hundred mental health workers and officials at a luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Mental Illness’ Southwestern PA’s chapter.

“We tend to see it (mental health issues) when it causes social issues like homelessness or like jail issues or like child welfare issues. We have a tendency to pay attention to it when the problem becomes a human services or a social problem,” she said, adding that prevention is key.

Routine mental health and substance abuse screenings are part of the Affordable Care Act and will play a huge role in normalizing health care.

In the next couple years, the way mental health services are administered in America will change, with the Affordable Care Act ensuring mental health services are included in health insurance plans.

In 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act became law. That bill along with the Affordable Care Act will provide opportunities for 62 and a half million Americans to get expanded coverage for mental health and substance abuse that they haven’t had in the past.