Scientists Grade Candidates on Mental Health and 19 Other Questions


(10-14-16) When it comes to mental health care in America, Republican candidate Donald Trump scores only one point on a five point scale ( 5 being the highest) while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton earns three points on the same scale.

That’s according to Scientific American magazine which partnered with to pose 20 questions to the presidential candidates — questions that were developed and refined by dozens of scientific organizations that represent more than 10 million scientists.

I’ve copy and pasted only the Mental Health question and answers. At the end of the responses is an explanation for why the group ranked Trump lower than Clinton and two independent candidates. I’ve leave it up to you to decide how important this study might be when it comes to casting your vote.

You can also listen to an interview conducted by Robin Young on the NPR program Here and Now  with Christine Gorman, a senior editor at Scientific American who oversaw the process.

Question 6: MENTAL HEALTH 

Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates it costs America more than $300 billion per year. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?

Hillary Clinton (D): Nearly a fifth of all adults in the United States, more than 40 million people, are coping with a mental health issue. Close to 14 million people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Moreover, many of these individuals have additional complicating life circumstances, such as drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, or involvement with the criminal justice system. Veterans are in acute need of mental health care, with close to 20 percent of those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experiencing post-traumatic stress or depression. And the problem is not limited to adults: an estimated 17 million children in the United States experience mental health issues, as do one in four college students. Too many Americans are being left to face mental health issues on their own, and too many individuals are dying prematurely from associated health conditions. We must do better.

That’s why I recently released a comprehensive and detailed plan to address this important issue that impacts so many American families. Under my plan, we’ll promote early diagnosis and intervention, including launching a national initiative for suicide prevention. We’ll integrate our nation’s mental and physical health care systems so that health care delivery focuses on the “whole person,” and significantly enhance community-based treatment opportunities. We’ll improve criminal justice outcomes by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention, and prioritizing treatment over jail for low-level, non-violent offenders. We’ll enforce mental health parity to the full extent of the law. We’ll improve access to housing and job opportunities. And we’ll invest in brain and behavioral research and developing safe and effective treatments.

I’m proud of my record of advocating for greater protections and expanded access to treatment for people with mental health conditions, including co-sponsoring the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. My goal is that within my time in office as president, Americans will no longer separate mental health from physical health when it comes to access to care or quality of treatment. The next generation must grow up knowing that mental health is a key component of overall health and there is no shame, stigma, or barriers to seeking out care.

Donald Trump (R): This is one of the great unfolding tragedies in America today.  States are reducing their commitments to mental health treatment and our jails are filled with those who need mental health care.  Any mental health reforms must be included in our efforts to reform healthcare in general in the country.  We must make the investment in treating our fellow citizens who suffer from severe mental illness.  This includes making sure that we allow family members to be more involved in the total care of those who are severely mentally ill.  We must ensure that the national government provides the support to state and local governments to bring mental health care to the people at the local level.  This entire field of interest must be examined and a comprehensive solution set must be developed so that we can keep people safe and productive.

Gary Johnson (L):The greatest challenge in mental health treatment is actually getting treatment to those affected. We believe that federal, one-size-fits-all solutions are doomed to failure, or at best, inefficiency. As former Governors, both Bill Weld and I have seen first-hand that states are better-equipped to fashion programs that will help connect those who need help with those who can provide it. That is why we favor a block grant approach to federal funding for health care, including mental health treatment. Let the states innovate, and the result will be best practices.

Mental illness is often related to drug abuse – both temporary and permanent. We have made the drug abuse problem worse through the drug war. By treating users as criminals instead of patients, we have driven a new population of vulnerable individuals underground. By instilling fear, the drug war prevents treatment – and decriminalization and legalization can remove enormous barriers to mental health treatment.

Jill Stein (G): As part of a Medicare for All universal health care system we need a mental health care system that safeguards human dignity, respects individual autonomy, and protects informed consent. In addition to full funding for mental health care, this means making it easier for the chronically mentally ill to apply for and receive Supplemental Security Income, and funding programs to increase public awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of the mentally ill and differently abled.

We must ensure that the government takes all steps necessary to fully diagnose and treat the mental health conditions resulting from service in combat zones, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

We will also release prisoners with diagnosed mental disorders to secure mental health treatment centers, and ensure psychological and medical care and rehabilitation services for mentally ill prisoners.

 Grading their answers

Clinton begins by asserting that nearly a fifth of adults are “coping with a mental health issue” such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, while others deal with addictions or homelessness. She highlights the needs of veterans and children in particular, and says she plans to promote a “national initiative for suicide prevention” and “treatment over jail for low-level, non-violent offenders,” among other things. Clinton offers many “whats” but fewer “hows,” including funding or which agencies she will call upon. Grade: 3/5

Trump acknowledges that “jails are filled with those who need mental health care” and says the U.S. must invest in “treating those with mental illness.” But he offers no specifics, saying “this entire field of interest must be examined and a comprehensive solution must be developed.” His complete lack of specifics indicates that he has not given the subject much thought.  Grade: 1/5

Johnson lists “the greatest challenge in mental health treatment” as “getting treatment to those affected.” He proposes a “block grant approach” to funding mental health, giving states money to do what they wish. He argues that “decriminalization and legalization can remove enormous barriers to mental health treatment,” keeping drug abusers out of jail. He does not discuss how best practices can be shared in a block-grant system such as this—particularly as costs of care can vary widely between states (according to Kaiser Family Foundation data) and grants that do not account for these variables can leave some states foundering as others benefit Grade: 2/5

Stein says her “Medicare for All” system would offer “full funding for mental health care,” making it “easier” for “chronically mentally ill” patients to receive “Supplemental Security income.” She also highlights veterans and PTSD-related mental illness, and prisoners with mental disorders. The answer does not indicate how a “Medicare for All” program would be funded or how the U.S. would make the radical transition to such a program. Grade: 3/5

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.