No More Barriers: Let’s Talk Mental Health Policy

I just want to see less youth and young adults being shamed and ashamed of their mental health.

by Shiva Sethi 

Mental health is a huge part of individual wellbeing. Systemic barriers like racism and stigma have blocked many people with low incomes and people of color from high-quality mental health care. Unaddressed mental health challenges undermine their ability to learn, work, and thrive. That’s why CLASP’s work in this area has dramatically deepened.

CLASP leads two long-term technical assistance initiatives related to mental health policy: Moving on Maternal Depression (MOMD) and Policy Advancing Transformed Lives (PATH)

MOMD is focused on prevention, screening, and treatment of maternal depression in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. PATH is focused on addressing mental health challenges for youth and young adults in Utah and Prince George’s County, Maryland. CLASP’s mental health work is guided by an advisory board, a diverse group of experts committed to advancing mental and behavioral health policy to better serve people with low incomes.  

I recently interviewed three people working with CLASP to advance mental health policy: Kadesha Mitchell, Barry Decker, and Dr. Kima Joy Taylor. These perspectives and insights illustrate the diverse, passionate coalition we’ve built.

Barry is a policy supervisor with Pennsylvania’s Office of Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Programs. He oversees policy related to children and women’s health care services. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services applied for the MOMD project to get help addressing and coordinating efforts around maternal depression services and screening across different programs.

Kadesha, a young adult peer specialist coach in Prince George’s County, Maryland, uses her lived experience with mental health challenges to guide her advocacy. She joined this project to share her experiences from a spiritual and peer support side with other young adults and to help them understand they’re not alone.

Dr. Taylor is a pediatrician, advocate, and member of CLASP’s mental health advisory board who recognizes the importance of mother-child relationships. “This duo’s relationship is healthier when both mom and child are as healthy as they can be. Mental health is ignored and seen as something people should ‘get through’ on their own. This sets up mom and child in a way that makes life harder than it has to be and lonelier than it should be. I am honored to work with and for a team that focuses on how to increase access to culturally effective services to make mental health more accessible and acceptable so individuals, families and communities can thrive. CLASP is one of the few organizations that values the voices of people in community, [relying on] their knowledge and understanding to create policies and programming that can be most effective.”

Barry, Dr. Taylor, and Kadesha described how their work with CLASP complements other major efforts to reform mental health policy. According to Barry, “the work that we are doing will help us to better identify gaps in our services and develop an approach that will help better educate our providers regarding maternal depression and the impacts upon the mother and child.

Dr. Taylor suggested we shouldn’t be looking for “one size-fits all” programs, considering our country’s size and diversity. But the lessons learned from CLASP’s projects can help other areas of the country evaluate their needs and work toward policy solutions.

Kadesha explained how this work could change young adult attitudes toward mental health. This would help people understand why resources need to be widely available.

I asked all three of my interviewees about the impact they’re seeking. Dr. Taylor said, “I would love for moms to have easy access to community-based, integrated behavioral; physical; and social services that are welcoming, culturally effective, and funded!”

Barry wanted “to see more individuals served who have been identified as needing mental health services and develop a way to measure the outcomes.”

Finally, Kadesha said, “I just want to see less youth and young adults being shamed and ashamed of their mental health. I want to see them being able to talk about it and given practical tools to get through life. Peer support and clinical support should no longer be working against each other or on opposite sides, but together. No more barriers.”