DEAR EDITOR:

At a time when quality behavioral health care is vital due to high unemployment as a result of global pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure access for all to mental health and substance use treatment. As a Community Service Board, it is our job to support recovery from COVID-19 and its impacts by building upon our existing behavioral health services for the future.

While we realize the looming budget deficit impacts every facet of government services, it is important to remember that our job as behavioral health professionals is likely to become even more vital in the months and years ahead.

Studies show that one in five people experience mental illness in their lifetime with anxiety and depression the most common forms. One in seven people experience a substance use disorder. Further, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen in the coming months as more people experience illness, job losses, and isolation, and then may self-medicate by drinking and drug use. Models project as much as a 41% increase over 2018 numbers of “deaths of despair” (suicide, drug misuse). At a time when easy access to quality care is even more vital, as many as 581,820 new Georgians and their family members will have lost job-based insurance coverage as the result of coronavirus-fueled layoffs.

The populations at risk include first responders, front-line works, older adults, children and adolescents, women, minority and economically disenfranchised groups and individuals with poor access to health care. As a public safety net for those who are underinsured and uninsured, the behavioral health care provided by CSBs are an appropriate alternative to costly emergency room care or incarceration. It would benefit all Georgians for the General Assembly to respond to the impending additional need and demand brought about by COVID-19.

Foster Norman

CEO, Cobb County Community Services Board

Smyrna

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