Tuberville In the News: Alabama Today: Sen. Tommy Tuberville makes plea for solutions to mental health crisis

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville spoke with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on exploring solutions to the mental health crisis in America during a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing on Thursday. Senator Tuberville made a passionate appeal for state, federal, and local action on America’s mental health crisis, calling it “the biggest problem we have in this country” and “the number one problem in this country.”

“I spent 35 years traveling this country as a coach and educator. And this is not just a crisis that we have of mental health. It’s an emergency. We’ve got huge problems,” said Tuberville. “This is probably the biggest problem we have in this country. It’s getting worse every day. I saw it change in just a short period of time. The number one commodity that we have in this country is not gold and silver. It’s our young people, and we’re destroying them, and we’re sitting back and watching it happen. I’ve seen prescription drugs take over our youth, especially a lot of kids that I work with. You know, we’ve ruined the nuclear family. And that’s where a lot of this has got to come from. I counted it up yesterday, 32 mental health programs that we have in this country… We spent tens of billions of dollars, and we’re not making any progress. We’re going the opposite way.”

U.S. Surgeon General Murthy said, “I wish I could circle, underscore, and star so much of what you just said because you’re right on. And you’re right that the most important asset we have is our kids, and we’ve got to do more to protect them.”

“We have a program in Alabama… that our state mental health department is running through our children’s hospital,” said Tuberville. “It works to connect interested primary providers with mental health specialists across the state and operates as sort of a command center out of the hospital in Birmingham. Kids experiencing all the issues that they have are connected with providers that are close to them, whether it’s rural or inner city. Money for this particular program has tripled in the last year in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Now, I will tell you this. We can afford a lot of things around here. We cannot not afford to fund mental health. We can’t. We have to be able to afford it and through situations like this.”

Tuberville continued, “So, Dr. Murthy, are we tracking the successes and failures of the rest of the billions of dollars that we spend? Are we tracking where it’s working? Have you got people that are doing that in your line of work that’s helping us track the money? Is that money helping to the degree where we can see success?”

“Well, thanks, Senator, and I wish I could circle, underscore, and star so much of what you just said because you’re right on, and you’re right that the most important asset we have is our kids, and we’ve got to do more to protect them,” Surgeon General Murthy said. “I also agree with you that when we do put funds toward a cause, it’s important to know, is it actually working? Is it delivering the benefit? And while our office, the Office of Surgeon General, does not conduct evaluation trials, that’s not what we are resourced to do. We do have colleagues across the Department of Health and Human Services, at NIH, and at SAMHSA who do conduct evaluations of programs so that we understand what’s working, who it’s working for, and what more what’s missing. But I think, Senator — to pick up on something else you said here as well — I think, and I like the program you mentioned in Alabama in terms of the concept of building a network and an infrastructure so that primary care doctors in particular and others aren’t trying to manage all this on their own, like programs at the Pediatric Mental Health Access Program, for example, have been very helpful in making sure that those primary care doctors can get expertise, mental health expertise into the clinic when a patient is there. And we do need more programs like that.”

“I don’t think that we will be able to keep up with the sheer, you know, disturbing trends that we’re seeing in terms of increased mental health concerns unless we attack some of these root causes,” Murphy continued. “And, you know, you mentioned our devices and particularly for young people. Social media has become — I worry for too many of them — a contributor, an important contributor to their mental health strains. I also spent a lot of time with student-athletes when I travel around the country to roundtables, specifically with student-athletes. And many of them tell me that, you know, not only are they having a hard time sometimes getting help, some of them have incredibly supportive coaches and administrations. Others do not. You know, I had one football player who told me that after having serious thoughts of taking his own life, he approached his coach and said it took a lot of courage for him. But he admitted to his coach what was going on and asked for help. But as the response from the coach was, well, you know, ‘If that’s how you’re feeling, maybe this program’s not for you, you should consider going to another university.’ And he was heartbroken. Now, thankfully, that’s not the response that most kids get. But we still have more to do in terms of making sure our kids get the help they need. But if we can focus on making social media safer for our kids, if we can focus on rebuilding the social connection and community that our kids need, families are a key part of that. Faith institutions are a key part of that. Other community organizations like YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, these all play a vital role in helping connect kids to each other families to each other. But participation in them, Senator, has been declining for a half a century, and it’s leaving people lonely, isolated, and at a greater risk for mental illness.”

“Unfortunately, there are people in this country that are born with a mental health problem, and we’re trying to treat them with a lot of prescription drugs,” Tuberville said. “And I think that’s fine to a certain degree. Sometimes we’re overprescribing, but the problem is we’re creating more mental health problems now than we have young people born with mental health problems. And I think we all have to understand that. If we’ll start understanding that, I think we can understand the problems that we have to overcome. Because if we don’t do this now, we’re going to lose the country that we all grew up in because mental health is the number one problem in this country, the number one problem because it leads to everything else. It leads to so many things in this country that are negative. So, thank you. Thank you for your answer.”