Dem-NPL Candidates Call for Investments in Behavioral Healthcare Amid Pandemic

BISMARCK, ND — Today, a group of Dem-NPL legislative candidates called for strong investments in behavioral health services and a holistic approach to treatment and recovery that includes Prevention and Early Intervention, Real Time Services, and Supporting Recovery in every part of North Dakota. An investment in behavioral health improves the quality of life of North Dakotans, and also grows the workforce and the economy. The virtual press conference recording can be found on the Dem-NPL Facebook page

A study from Kaiser Family Foundation showed that in 2019, more than one in ten adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Now, it’s more than one in three. Further, 13% of adults have reported a new or increased substance use as a way to manage COVID-19-related stress while 11% reported thoughts of suicide. In recent years, North Dakota’s suicide rate has risen faster than almost any other state in the nation.

District 24 Sen. Larry Robinson, discussed how investing in behavioral health would benefit the public and private sector workforces, and the need for support in rural areas. Robinson said: 

“When it knocks at your door, it’s a rude awakening, and you quickly find yourself searching for help, and advice, and direction, and support,” Robinson said. “The revolving door aspect of treatment, addiction, and so on has not worked, and we know that, and we’ve learned from that over the last number of years. This is not going to be an easy lift. We know that, but I think there’s increasing awareness across the state, private and public partnerships, private and public sectors, that this is an issue that must be addressed. The greater cost would be in not making those investments.”

Tracey Wilkie, a District 16 House candidate, who has worked for 25 years on the front lines of behavioral healthcare, said:

“As someone who has worked directly with people going through serious challenges my whole life, I can tell you behavioral health needs a holistic approach and that Prevention and Early Intervention is key to saving lives and livelihoods. These resources include supporting early screening, referral services, expanding local behavioral workforces, and strengthening economic support for families, all even more important as risks rise during the pandemic.” 

Jackie Hoffarth, a District 18 House candidate, and a licensed social worker, discussed the need for real-time services, culturally responsive care, and diversifying the behavioral health workforce. Hoffarth said:

“We need to base funding off what people need and change the way we think about behavioral health, which means person-centered care that helps people set and meet goals they can accomplish today. It’s helping people meet their basic needs, treating them with dignity and trust over the choice in their own lives, and reducing stigma often associated within systems whose approach is often punitive rather than empowering. This is the path to a healthier North Dakota, not only at the individual level, but economically as healthy North Dakotans become productive employees who stay in the workforce and become part of our innovative fabric.”

Will Thompson, District 22 House candidate, discussed his personal experience with behavioral health, the need to eliminate stigma, and what that means in terms of setting priorities. Thompson said:

“I believe that mental health issues and substance abuse are going to be some of the greatest challenges my generation is going to face. So we don’t have time to wait. The legislature instituted an addiction treatment voucher that enabled people who couldn’t afford treatment to get care in their communities, rather than one of the few state facilities. It was a start, but the money ran out this year and right before the most critical time of the year – when the winter makes us feel trapped and the holidays bring challenging times for many people. The program froze during a crisis. We can’t let that happen again.”