Author Archives: Katti Gray

About Katti Gray

Katti Gray (@kattigray) is AHCJ's core topic leader for behavioral and mental health. A former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, Gray is providing resources to help AHCJ members expand their coverage of mental health amid ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and to place mental health care on par with all health care.

Schools still ill-equipped to serve special-ed students with mental illnesses

School desks in an empty classroom

Photo: Alachua County via Flickr

The mental health of students has been of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some students more severely affected by the lockdowns and safety restrictions than others. Particularly impacted are youth enrolled in special education, a population already disproportionately beset by mental illness and school suspensions. Continue reading

Mental health services benefitting from telehealth expansion during pandemic

Facetime call screen

Photo: clappstar vis Flickr

Amid the mental and behavioral challenges fueled by COVID-19, expanded telehealth capabilities have contributed to a surge in mental health care. Use of the technology appears to have contributed to fewer no-show psychiatric and other counseling appointments among both new and existing patients and expanded access to care for patients in regions that pre-pandemic were bearing the brunt of the nation’s lack of mental health providers.

Once we’re safely past this pandemic, at least some emergency telemedicine expansions, granted through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state governors, likely will remain. As that future is being sorted out, it’s important to consider what’s beneficial and what’s concerning about treating mental illnesses from a distance. Continue reading

Interest grows in therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms

PHOTO: figgenhoffer via Flickr

PHOTO: figgenhoffer via Flickr

During Election 2020, Oregon became the first state to approve the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in more than 100 different species of wild psilocybin mushrooms, as a mental health treatment done in certified therapeutic settings. Last year, District of Columbia voters also decriminalized these wild, “magic” psychedelic mushrooms, a hallucinogen popularly known as a recreational drug.

Denver in 2019 became the first U.S. city to decriminalize mushrooms, and the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the first psychedelic, esketamine, to treat psychiatric disorders, including major depression that didn’t improve through previous use of other anti-depressants. Because of its psychedelic effects and potential to trigger suicidal ideation, dissociation disorders and other serious side effects, esketamine legally can be administered as a nasal spray only in a certified medical office and in conjunction with an oral anti-depressant. Trademarked as Spravato, esketamine is a more potent form of the anesthetic ketamine, which also is used to treat depression. Continue reading

Mental health advocates pressing for swifter White House action

PHOTO: claire valej via Flickr

PHOTO: claire valej via Flickr

Here are just a few of the mental health initiatives that the Biden Administration appears poised to pursue, according to policy watchers and influencers.

  • Increased federal enforcement of an Affordable Care Act mandate that insurance companies put mental health care on par with all other health care.
  • Heightened oversight of short-term insurance policies that President Trump supported, but critics derided as “junk insurance” because they did not cover mental illness or behavioral, substance abuse and similar disorders.
  • More federal support to help municipalities join a nationwide emergency 988 call line — signed into law in 2020 by Trump — aimed at lowering suicide rates, police intervention in emergencies involving persons with mental illness and handling other mental health crises.
  • Urging Congress to approve $4 billion to help the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) expand services as the pressures of COVID-19 have prompted record numbers to people to seek mental and behavioral health care.

Continue reading

Federal law criticized for excluding certain Medicaid patients from psychiatric care

Photo: Alachua County via Flickr

Photo: Alachua County via Flickr

A federal law that has long led to severely mentally ill Medicaid patients not receiving needed care at many psychiatric facilities has outlived its presumed usefulness, according to a recent report.

A February 2021 analysis by the Manhattan Institute documents how a federal institutes for mental diseases (IMDs) exclusion enacted in 1965 discourages states from investing in patient care and restricts care and access. The IMD exclusion bars states from using the federal portion of Medicaid payments for services rendered “inside or outside” IMDs. They include hospitals, nursing homes or other facilities with 16 or more beds that primarily provide mental health care. The exclusion targets Medicaid patients ages 21 to 64 years old. Continue reading