Where does your 2016 presidential candidate stand on mental health?

Forbes, Sept. 6, 2015

2016 presidential candidatesInterested in mental health? According to a recent poll, you probably are—just like the 90% of us in the US who view mental health to be as important as physical health, the third of us who have trouble accessing mental health, and the 40% of us for whom mental health care costs are a barrier. In spite of widespread interest in mental health and the fact that almost half of the 2000 people who responded to the poll thought they had a mental health condition, this critical issue—these are our brains and our behavior we’re talking about, after all—is barely on the radar of most of the 2016 presidential candidates.

To see what, if anything, candidates were saying about their stance on mental health and what they plan to do about something that touches the lives of just about every single person in the United States, I identified each candidate’s website. and searched the site and performed a Google search on that domain using the terms “mental health” and “behavioral health.” This kind of search was necessary because the vast majority of candidates don’t provide search functions on their sites (a significant number of them don’t even provide issues statements. But you can by things and donate!).

I then also scanned each site for mentions, with a particular focus on issues and briefing statements. To keep things to a reasonable length, I looked at only those candidates polling in the top half or so of the field for their parties, and I looked only at Republican and Democratic candidates.

Candidates are given in alphabetical order by last name (which I note includes a preponderance of candidates whose last names start with B and C). Note: This search does not include any mentions of mental or behavioral health that might be made in videos; the candidates don’t provide transcripts of their videos.

The take-home? Candidates rarely bring up mental health as part of their issues statements. When they do, what they say falls very clearly along party lines. Republican candidates who do address the issue tend to do so in the context of veterans affairs or to recommend institutionalizing certain mentally ill people rather than focusing on gun control. Democratic candidates who bring up mental health tend to do so in the context of reducing the flow in the prison pipeline and addressing substance use disorders. In other words and not surprisingly, mental health gets a mention where it seems to be politically expedient.