121: A Focus on Mental Health

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s State Health Officer, shares her state’s approach to addressing mental health concerns; ASTHO’s Maggie Davis authors a blog article on legislative efforts impacting mental health; Carolyn McCoy, ASTHO’s Senior...

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Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s State Health Officer, shares her state’s approach to addressing mental health concerns; ASTHO’s Maggie Davis authors a blog article on legislative efforts impacting mental health; Carolyn McCoy, ASTHO’s Senior Director of Federal Government Affairs, helps members understand the Prevent Pandemics Act under development on Capitol Hill; and ASTHO offers an online learning module to guide agencies through the CDC’s Healthy Brain Initiative Road Map Series.

ASTHO Policy Prospectus: Supporting Mental and Behavioral Health

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO Policy Watch 2022 – Mental Health

ASTHO E-Learning Module: Healthy Brain Initiative (HBI) Road Map Module

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, February 17th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Nationally, more than 51 million adults experienced mental illness in 2019, but less than half of them received services. The need has only increased during the pandemic. ASTHO has identified mental health as one of its top 10 policy issues to watch this year. Elke Shaw-Tulloch is Idaho's state health officer. She talks about her state's approach to addressing mental health concerns in today's morning conversation.

What was already a challenge has been made worse the last two years because of the pandemic. Where have we lost ground?


I think this is a great question. And certainly the pandemic has been very impactful; I think that we would be very hard pressed to find any person or community that hasn't been impacted by the pandemic from a mental and behavioral health standpoint. Mental health and behavioral health issues don't discriminate in that anyone can be affected regardless of where they live, their age, their race, their ethnicity, et cetera.

However, as we know, there are some population groups that are disproportionately affected by mental and behavioral health issues, especially during the pandemic: the pandemic has forced some job loss, as we know; isolation overwhelmed, certainly, we know for public health responders and healthcare providers, for sure; a lack of belonging and connectedness, also.

We've lost ground in our youth, our parents, our rural, our indigenous peoples, and refugee populations in particular. There's a much higher level of general anxiety around the virus due partly to online schooling, student loss of social skills, and higher educational gaps when we look at our youth.

And then, also as some of the older populations, for example, there's also been a definite fear running through that population about getting COVID, especially in the early stages when a lot of our messaging out there was really pointing to the risk factors for older population.

And then last, we have lost ground in terms of preventive care as well. That impacts most populations, but it likely is impacting these marginalized groups even more severely.

So, the pandemic seems to be this dome that sort of created around already tenuous relationship that we have as a society for help-seeking behavior. And so, just this amplification has been really tough.


There are so many things to work on. Is it clear what needs to be done to help people begin to recover from the damage that's occurred the last two years?


We want to make sure that people know about current services available through outreach and awareness. And I think a really big thing that I'm a huge advocate for as well is that we need to normalize help-seeking behaviors and we need to make it understood that everyone is struggling on some level. And we also want to validate some of the traumatic experiences people have had during COVID—there've been some pretty profound things that people have had to address.

We want to increase the behavioral health workforce capacity across the states to alleviate the access issues that people may have—and that includes healthcare coverage, shortage areas, wait times, for example. And we also want to collect some deeper information, really, about our communities; and we can do that through surveys, community listening tours, clinician-provider focus groups, and things like that.


Truly, it's an overwhelming to-do list. How do you get started when there are so many things that need your immediate attention?


Yeah, I think that's where public health really excels, in that we are really good at convening people and connecting people and organizations that can address it collectively. And I think, especially during COVID, public health agencies, you know, at the state and local level, that's how we've been able to even manage the whole pandemic is through those community and partner connections.

So, if we convene our partners and we have us all together really working towards that same kind of collective vision, then we can certainly make some strides. We've learned some lessons, we know where people are struggling.

So, it does seem like a daunting list, like you said, and where do you start? You kind of have to start with a little bit of a blanket of all of those things and try to find the key things that you can move forward quickly, and then build from that.


You can read the policy brief about mental health and a blog article written by ASTHO's Maggie Davis using the links in the show notes.


Congress is working on new pandemic-related legislation. The Prevent Pandemics Act calls for a full review of the nation's COVID-19 response and proposes actions related to national stockpiles of emergency supplies.

Carolyn McCoy is ASTHO's senior director of federal government affairs. She says ASTHO is offering its input on the Senate's discussion draft.


We at ASTHO appreciate when there's this opportunity to work on legislation as it's being developed because—as we all know—when there's more folks at the table, legislation has the potential to be stronger.


The bill, including all of its proposals, could be heard by a Senate committee in Washington as early as next month.


Finally today, ASTHO wants to help you take full advantage of the CDC's Healthy Brain Initiative Road Map series with an online module that can help your agency identify priorities related to dementia and caregiving. The course includes an overview of the roadmap and an action-planning template. You'll find a link to the online learning module in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast.


Join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch MHS

Public Health Administrator, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

Carolyn McCoy MPH

Senior Director, Government Affairs, ASTHO