His View: Tackling the Mental Health Crisis in America

By Secretary Xavier Becerra,
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Xavier Becerra is the 25th Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the first Latino to hold the office in the history of the United States.

 A few weeks ago, I flew to Portland, Oregon, for a roundtable on mental health. It was just the latest stop on HHS’s National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health in America. I met with the governor, members of Congress, state representatives, CEOs, pediatricians, administrators, teachers, and school psychologists. But the voice I remember most from that day was not in the room. 

It was the voice of a high school student from the Eugene School District who had lost three friends to suicide over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The student’s teacher shared the student’s words with our roundtable: “The kids that we have lost could have been scientists, teachers, firefighters, and so much more.” 

That agony of lost potential is not limited to one county or corner of the country. It is an American crisis, one that began long before COVID-19 and has only gotten worse since. 

Record-breaking overdose deaths. 

Increased reports of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and even suicide. 

This crisis has hit children, teens, and young adults especially hard. 

More than half of parents express concern over their children’s mental health and well-being. 

And more than 140,000 children in the U.S. have lost a caregiver to COVID-19. Not only have our country’s youth endured a pandemic, they’ve also endured gun violence – whether in their communities, or on their televisions or computer screens. We can’t let this trauma and fear go unaddressed. 

This crisis deeply affects our Latino communities. 

A recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2020, an estimated 6.1 million Latinos aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder, with almost 94 percent not receiving treatment. And almost 1 million Latino youth aged 12-17 had a major depressive episode in the past year; and only 37% received treatment for depression in the past year. 

The numbers are heartbreaking. But numbers alone cannot capture the true toll of this crisis. 

We see it in the faces of grieving families and overworked caregivers. 

We hear it in the blaring sirens and panicked 911 calls. 

We read it in the obituaries of sons and daughters gone too soon because help came too late. 

But we’re not waiting to act. 

Since President Biden took office, we’ve made historic investments in our behavioral health and substance use services, awarding states and territories billions in new funding so they can help more Americans in need. 

In October, we rolled out a new strategy to prevent drug overdoses. 

In May, through our Health Resources and Services Administration, we awarded nearly $25 million to improve and strengthen access to school-based health services in communities across the country. 

 In July, we will begin transitioning to a three-digit 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which we hope will one day do for mental health crises what 911 has done for emergency services. 

And as I mentioned above, over the past few months, I’ve hit the road on HHS’s National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health to hear directly from Americans about the mental health challenges they’re facing and how we can best support their communities. 

I’m deeply proud of the progress we’ve made. But we’re not done yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us. And I’m committed to working with the Latino community to strengthen and protect mental health in our communities across America.

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