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Clinton aims to lock behavioral health into her agenda

June 3, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Hillary Clinton might be the first candidate to include behavioral health as an agenda item in the race for the White House. Linda Langston, Linn County Supervisor in Iowa, spoke to her at an exclusive dinner recently and also was hand-picked to join Clinton's advisors in a video conference to discuss behavioral health last week.

“She wanted to follow up to understand the perspective of the people with boots on the ground,” Langston tells Behavioral Healthcare. “I’m grateful she was open to this particular discussion.”

Langston says no other candidate has been conversational about behavioral health thus far, and she is fairly confident the issue will eventually become part of Clinton’s agenda. On the campaign trail, Clinton has commented about the epidemic of heroin use that is “tearing families apart,” and plans to use the discussion points from the video conference in Iowa and one that was also held in New Hampshire last week to develop policy proposals in the coming months.

“If this could even remotely be part of the campaign discussion, it would be huge because it’s costing this country an enormous amount of money,” Langston says.

Restoring community

Iowa legislators and a juvenile probation officer also joined the video conference that Langston participated in, and the group discussed co-occurring disorders and the underlying causes of addiction. Mental health disorders are often masked by, or take a back seat to, the person’s substance abuse, so they can go unrecognized and untreated, which leads to recidivism.

The discussion with Clinton advisors offered input on potential policy that would provide funding for treatment, investments in jail alternatives and good Samaritan laws, according to Langston.

“We talked a lot about what the potential is to do diversion before people get to the justice system,” she says. “We talked a lot about restoring community, restoring humanity and restoring safety for everyone.”

Industry and community stakeholders typically know how to help those who need treatment, but the disconnect is in the funding and the policy commitments, she says. Even those who don’t feel particularly moved by the compassion of advocates should at least be swayed by the financial propositions.

“When you put it in a financial perspective, it’s far better to spend the money early, and you spend less money than you would incarcerating people and then keeping them out of jail because it also becomes a workforce and economic development issue,” Langston says.

For example, a preschool program in Linn County, Iowa, for at-risk kids—many of whom live with parents who have behavioral health disorders—has produced a return on investment of 14-to-1, she says.

“I’d rather be spending money on putting kids through a preschool that helps them get onto a good path than spend money on the juvenile detention system when they’re 15 years old,” she says. “We talked about that broad range need and understanding the need for prevention, diversion and treatment.”

According to the Washington Post, Clinton advisors have said that behavioral health is a priority for her campaign. Langston says she’s been impressed by Clinton personally and finds her to be intelligent and approachable even with all the scrutiny that surrounds her on the campaign trail.