A Mental and Behavioral Health Roadmap for Policymakers

By Isha Weerasinghe 

The death, destruction, and fear that plagued 2020 widened existing racial and economic inequities. Racial uprisings, a recognition of police brutality, hate crimes, the pandemic, and job losses increased alongside new ways of socializing, working, and living. All of these factors exacerbated our existing mental and behavioral health crises. As the 117th Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration begin their terms, they must identify why the current mental and behavioral health infrastructure does and will not work to meet the needs of millions, and push innovative and bold ideas that put people’s well-being first.  

CLASP developed a set of principles to reframe and reimagine how we look at mental and behavioral health, providing a platform for policymakers to craft effective and equitable mental and behavioral health policies. We built and informed our Core Principles to Reframe Mental and Behavioral Health Policy on: conversations and continuous collaboration with local, state, and national advocates, practitioners, and agency officials; guidance from our Mental Health Advisory Board; and perspectives from people with lived experience.

We distilled these insights into six principles:

Principle 1: In order to focus on wellness and prevention, we must redefine our understanding of mental and behavioral health to be asset-based and community-informed.

Principle 2: We have to improve and increase mental and behavioral health access.

Principle 3: Mental and behavioral health services must be culturally responsive.

Principle 4: Mental and behavioral health care must focus on social needs.

Principle 5: Effective mental and behavioral health care calls for quality care in all areas and comprehensive data.

Principle 6: Meeting the mental and behavioral health needs of communities calls for an enhanced workforce.

We hope these principles serve as a springboard for holistic, culturally responsive, and effective people-centered policies in mental and behavioral health. Without immediate and comprehensive action, thousands of people’s mental health and well-being will continue to suffer -- for now, and for generations to come.