Mental health shouldn’t be “treated like a stepchild” to physical health, says HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra


Watch a portion of the interview within the video participant above, and extra on “Red & Blue” streaming reside at 6 p.m. ET on the CBS News app in your cellular or streaming gadget.

The Biden administration plans to ramp up psychological health providers to assist hundreds of thousands of Americans struggling from the disruptions, hardships and grief of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s high federal health official says, however wants extra money from Congress to do “transformative work on mental health.” 

The feedback by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, on the eve of National Mental Health Awareness Month, come because the Biden administration has urged Congress to pour billions into a number of behavioral health efforts. 

“One of the things that we’re doing that I hope will be instrumental in letting all of us, including these children, get through COVID is that we’re going to be devoting far more resources towards mental health care, making sure that families and these children have access to the mental health services they need,” Becerra instructed CBS News correspondent Enrique Acevedo in a wide-ranging interview taped on Friday. 

He additionally acknowledged the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on Black, Hispanic and Native American households and kids, and mentioned the federal government has been doing outreach to assist them entry accessible advantages. 

Last month, Becerra’s division announced it had awarded greater than $100 million in COVID-19 reduction money to states to shore up their disaster name facilities forward of the 988 dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline being activated nationwide this summer time. It additionally lately touted resources to promote consciousness of legal guidelines requiring insurance coverage firms to cover psychological health situations on par with different medical remedies.

“We’ve seen how, unfortunately in this country, mental health is almost still treated like a stepchild to general health, physical health,” mentioned Becerra. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra testifies at a Senate listening to on COVID-19 and faculties, September 30, 2021.

GREG NASH/POOL/AFP by way of Getty Images

The White House’s COVID-19 response has gone out of its means to point out psychological health as a part of their plans in current months, pledging to “launch new support” to reply to the “increase in behavioral health conditions” from the pandemic. 

COVID-19’s official reported loss of life toll within the U.S. might attain a million this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts, although research counsel the true variety of lives claimed by the virus is possible far greater

Through February, researchers estimated that greater than 180,000 youngsters within the U.S. have lost a guardian or caregiver to the pandemic. About 65% of these youngsters are members of racial or ethnic minorities.

“Let me find you where you are and help, whether it’s COVID getting you vaccinated before you get sick, or whether it’s trying to make sure that you as a child who have lost your parents with COVID, we don’t wait until you manifest the signs that you’re having a really difficult time,” Becerra mentioned. 

Top pediatric health groups and the surgeon general have been warning in regards to the “youth mental health crisis,” saying the pandemic not less than uncovered — if not worsened for some youngsters — a vary of already worrying points. A CDC official recently described survey knowledge discovering greater than a third of highschool college students reporting indicators of poor psychological health as echoing “a cry for help.” 

In 2020, round 46,000 lives within the U.S. have been lost to suicide, making it one of many 10 main causes of loss of life and the second amongst youngsters, the CDC recently tallied. That really displays a decline within the suicide rate, although analysis from earlier disasters suggests the slowdown may be quick lived. 

“Existing data suggest that suicide rates might be stable or decline during a disaster, only to rise afterwards as the longer-term sequelae unfold in persons, families, and communities, as was the case in New Orleans 2 years after Hurricane Katrina,” the research’s authors wrote. 

“I just need to do my job” 

Becerra responded to questions raised in regards to the position he has performed in helming the division’s COVID-19 response, alluding to critics of his low public profile. 

“I don’t need to go out there and shout from the top of a mountain so that someone can come broadcast it that we’re doing our job. I just need to do my job,” Becerra instructed CBS News.

He listed work to increase COVID-19 vaccination charges amongst Black and Latino adults as among the many accomplishments of the administration’s pandemic efforts, in addition to record-high charges of Americans who now have health insurance coverage. 

He additionally famous that regardless of indicators of enchancment, the nation remains to be within the midst of a pandemic that would pose a hazard to Americans. 

“We know that COVID is still with us, but we’re in a far better place. And we urge every American to do everything we’ve learned that helps, so we can get an even better place,” mentioned Becerra. 

COVID-19 deaths are persevering with to sluggish nationwide, however CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently warned that deaths have been starting to as soon as once more speed up once more in rural counties. Hospitalizations and instances have been climbing nationwide, with one in 10 Americans now residing in communities of “medium” or “high” ranges of COVID-19 in accordance to the CDC’s tally. 

In the Northeast, the place the CDC estimates the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 first turned dominant within the U.S., the rate of new hospital admissions in essentially the most weak age group — 70 years and older — is now above the peaks seen through the Delta variant wave final year.  

Alexander Tin

CBS News reporter overlaying public health and the pandemic.