Why it’s Newsworthy: Mental health disorders are on the rise in Georgia due to the coronavirus. The election of certain state officials in the Georgia House and the Georgia Senate could determine the outcome of mental health services and funding in the state, either limiting or creating access for more people. 
The candidates in the 2020 election for the Georgia State House and the Georgia State Senate have different perspectives when it comes to funding for mental health. (Graphic/Abigail Chasteen, using Canva)

In Georgia, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened mental health conditions across the state. This past June, the CDC surveyed 5,412 adults and found that over 40% reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Nearly 31% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression disorder, and 13.3% reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with COVID-19. Georgia’s state budget for 2021 cuts funding for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities by $24.3 million from last year’s budget.

With mental health disorders on the rise, the question has come up of whether mental health is a priority to the candidates in the Georgia state elections. Mental health has the potential to impact how someone interacts with the police. In jails, around 15% of men and 30% of women have a mental health disorder. Athens-Clarke county’s 2021 budget includes the enactment of a “co-responder” team for the police department, consisting of a team between a police officer and a social worker. With two teams already in play, this will now be the third team for the police department.

There were 20 candidates running for state legislature seats to represent people in Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson, Oconee, Oglethorpe, and Madison counties. A check of the candidate’s websites indicates only two of the twenty address mental health. In order to see the positions of the candidates, I emailed out a questionnaire to the candidates with a 20% response rate. If you would like to see the questions and responses, click here.

Abigail Chasteen is a senior majoring in journalism and political science in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.

 

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