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Nearly one in five Americans experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But in an election cycle often dominated by worries about the economy and national security, mental health gets comparatively little exposure as a serious issue on the presidential campaign trail.
In this election season, the issue has been brought up most frequently when candidates have discussed mass shootings. Candidates on both sides of the aisle have stressed the need to prevent mentally ill people from acquiring guns, including Democrats advocating for gun control as well as Republicans arguing that the lack of treatment for mental health issues should be blamed for mass shootings rather than the gun industry.
The heroin epidemic has also provided an opportunity for candidates to link drug addiction and mental health, with candidates like Bernie Sanders and John Kasich arguing that the nation’s prison system must stop being used as a substitute for treatment.
And mental health is also commonly mentioned in regards to the Department of Veterans Affairs, with many candidates promising to reform the agency and give veterans access to proper care, including for mental health.
It’s even more rare for candidates to mention mental health as its own issue, one that isn’t prompted by a national crisis or by a question from an audience member. Out of all the 2016 candidates, Hillary Clinton and John Kasich are perhaps the most vocal advocates for mental health care.
Clinton has called for mental health to be treated with parity to physical health issues. During the run-up to the Iowa caucus, Clinton frequently criticized the state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, for closing two of the state’s four mental hospitals.
Kasich, who is often attacked by conservatives for expanding Medicaid in his home state of Ohio, has argued that the move helped treat the mentally ill.