As major natural disasters become more common, the public health workforce is playing a vital role in helping affected communities. But keeping up with the growing mental health and wellness challenges created by disasters will require support, APHA told members of Congress Thursday.Person walks across flooding road in Vermont

During a virtual briefing, APHA joined with other health and community leaders to discuss H.R. 3073, the Community Mental Wellness and Resilience Act of 2023. Introduced in Congress in May, the bill would set up a $36 million grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in support of local mental health and resilience programs. Given the ongoing shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S., particularly in rural and underserved communities, the need for such programs is critical, briefing participants said.

“Community-level solutions and treatment options will be necessary to address America’s growing mental health epidemic,” Katherine Catalano, MS, deputy director of the APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, said during the briefing. “Our mental health, human services and disaster mental health systems cannot assist all the people who experience mental health problems today, and this gap will only grow over time.”

In 2022, about 150 million people lived in areas that were federally-designated as having mental health professional shortages. With about 20% of adults diagnosed with a mental illness, demand already outstrips supply. Recent disasters such as severe flooding in Vermont and other northeast states are adding to the need for support.

APHA was joined at the briefing by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychiatric Association and the Prevention Institute.

Public health supporters can urge their members of Congress to support the bill by sending an APHA action alert.


Photo caption: Heavy rains in July flood a street in Vermont. Recent disasters such as severe flooding in Vermont and other northeast states are adding to the need for greater support for people's mental health and wellness. Courtesy Nicholas Erwin, via Flickr Creative Commons.