MANCHESTER — Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand said seeing the toll of the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire helped frame her policy on mental health.
The New York senator is expected to talk extensively about her new plan during a round table on the topic at Amoskeag Health in Manchester Tuesday morning.
“On the campaign trail, I hear a lot about mental well-being. I hear it from the grandparents in New Hampshire who have taken their grandchild in now that their daughter passed away from substance use disorder. I hear it from kids scared to go to school in case there’s a mass shooting. I hear it from health care providers in Iowa who don’t have access to the resources they need,” Gillibrand says near the conclusion of her mental health policy plan.
The Union Leader obtained a copy of the plan in which the candidate vows, if elected, to help end the stigma around mental illness. She said the stigma has made many uncomfortable to talk about how the system has failed them.
“There is not one family in this country that isn’t concerned about mental health to some extent. But for all of these conversations I’ve had, they’re almost always whispered. People are too afraid of the stigma to voice them loudly. As president, I will break down those barriers,” Gillibrand said.
“I will make sure everyone across the country knows and sees that mental health care is real health care. I will increase access to care, fight stigma and change the way people perceive mental health care, and then provide resources for communities to invest in solutions that are already working.”
Appearing with Gillibrand at the round table Tuesday is state Sen. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye, a gastroenterologist who has been a leading advocate along with Gov. Chris Sununu to convince lawmakers to make historic, additional investments in beefing up New Hampshire’s mental health network.
In dealing with the opioid crisis, Gillibrand said she would do more to integrate substance abuse treatment and mental health care; this would include an increase in family support grants, and better training of health care providers to use alternative treatments for pain to avoid addiction to painkillers.
“The opioid epidemic is a defining crisis in our country right now as millions of families are ripped apart and hundreds of thousands of communities lay destroyed,” Gillibrand said. “As I’ve traveled the country, my heart has broken as I’ve heard story after story of people whose lives have been forever altered because of this crisis. In places like New Hampshire, substance use disorder is so devastatingly common, it’s often impossible to find anyone who hasn’t been personally affected.”
She said a critical barrier to change is failing to come to grips with “implicit bias” against some American citizens who are more at risk of mental health catastrophes including suicide.
“I will also make sure our health care system overcomes implicit bias toward individuals facing poverty, sexual minorities, children, mothers (particularly new mothers), the elderly, the overweight, and people with disabilities,” Gillibrand says.
“Every patient deserves respect from their health care practitioners and that respect must inform a new approach to mental and behavioral health treatment and effective services beyond traditional therapy.”
Lesbian, gay or bisexual teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, Gillibrand said.
This visit is Gillibrand’s ninth to the state and comes at a pivotal time as she seeks to break out of her position in the back of the pack among major 2020 candidates.
A Dartmouth graduate, Gillibrand, 52, has been trying to raise money in person and online so she can reach the donor threshold needed to become eligible for the next round of Democratic National Committee debates next month.