NJAMHAA's Advocacy Helps Strengthen Mental Health and SUD Treatment Systems

April 30, 2021

May Is Mental Health Month

While it has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the demand for mental health and substance use prevention, treatment and recovery services has not waned. Individuals are still coping with the effects of living through a pandemic, which can include fear of or becoming ill with COVID-19, job loss, isolation, housing and food insecurity and can contribute to anxiety, depression, substance use disorders (SUDs) and suicidality. As a result, many people who had never had a mental illness previously are now reporting and experiencing symptoms. Behavioral health providers have been on the frontline providing critical services throughout the pandemic and have overcome many obstacles, including personal protective equipment shortages.

"Mental health and SUD treatment providers have risen to the call to aid individuals experiencing mental illness and substance use. With funding for behavioral health coming at an unprecedented rate, it is important that traditional services are sustained so providers can continue to meet the ever increasing demand," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA).

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey had a shortage of mental health and substance use treatment providers and access to treatment had been difficult. This has continued during the pandemic. NJAMHAA has been advocating to have psychiatric advanced practice nurses take on more responsibilities to prevent gaps in treatment, especially during the pandemic when the demand for services has been increasing dramatically. Additionally, during the pandemic, NJAMHAA has been advocating for legislation that supports making the temporary flexibility for providing telehealth services permanent to increase access to treatment and for increased funding for minimum wage increases to support recruitment and retention of behavioral healthcare providers.

For 70 years, NJAMHAA has been advocating for the strengthening of the mental healthcare and SUD treatment system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, NJAMHAA persevered and continued to succeed in its advocacy by focusing equally on the new challenges the public health emergency introduced, existing difficulties that were exacerbated by the pandemic and other ongoing issues.

"NJAMHAA has been invaluable to all of us, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic," said Bob Budsock, MS, LCADC, President and CEO of Integrity House and Immediate Past Chair the NJAMHAA Board. "NJAMHAA collaborates with members to ensure, even while we're in the midst of a pandemic, that we remain focused on our North Star, which is to provide essential services to many people in the State of New Jersey who are desperately in need of help."

"As a long standing provider of substance use disorder treatment and an emergency shelter in Trenton, NJ, we and many of our partners would not have been able to work in the COVID 19 environment without the information, contacts and advocacy of NJAMHAA," said Mary Gay, LCADC, President, Rescue Mission of Trenton and a NJAMHAA Board member since 2017. "I acknowledge NJAMHAA is crucial to our work every day, but the effort at this time has been nothing short of vital and frankly amazing."

"NJAMHAA is proud to represent and advocate for providers and the individuals and families they serve. As May is Mental Health Month, it is a good time to reinforce that mental health should always be everyone's focus as much as physical health," said Dr. Wentz. "NJAMHAA and its members have been an effective team for more than 70 years and we look forward to celebrating this important milestone and continuing our impactful work for at least 70 more years!"

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