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Mental Health

Mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." Several barriers to mental health care make it difficult for everyone to achieve their best mental health. APHA supports efforts to improve access to care and put mental health on par with physical health.

The Affordable Care Act expanded mental health coverage, made it illegal to deny insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, including mental illness, and expanded parity. Parity means health plans must put mental health and substance abuse treatment on equal terms with other medical and surgical care. APHA supports parity as a step toward equity in health and treatment. We also speak out about the need for improved access to mental health care to help address such problems as gun violence and suicide.

Why is mental health a public health issue?


To achieve true parity in mental health coverage and access to care, policymakers at the state and federal levels should:

  • Enact comprehensive parity laws in all states.
  • Support stricter enforcement, transparency requirements and implementation.
  • Push states to have a definition of "medical necessity" that puts a priority on clinical practice and uses a behavioral health treatment model.
  • Fund, train and provide mental health parity navigators to detect parity violations and work with insurance companies to bring their plans into compliance.
  • Fund and invest in research relating to evidence-based practices surrounding parity implementation and parity policy standards for insurance companies.
  • Provide incentives for those entering and working in the mental health field.

Community members and consumers should:

  • Be educated about mental health parity and your state laws surrounding parity requirements.

Public health agencies should:

  • Put programs and policies in place that surround education of parity, insurance plans and mental health.
  • Encourage public health professionals to be well-versed in mental health and substance abuse care.


Addressing mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19:

Check out our recorded webinar: "Making the Connection: Climate Changes Mental Health"

Learn more about APHA's Mental Health Section.

Visit APHA's suicide topics page

Find more at and from the National Institute of Mental Health. Also, the non-profit organization Affordable Colleges Online offers guides on Mental Health in College.

AJPH Mental Health Articles
More APHA Mental Health Resources

From APHA Press

PTSD and Veterans Suicide book covers

PTSD Facts

Healthy You fact sheet on PTSD

Depression: How You Can Help

Reaching out to someone who may be depressed

Help With Grief

Coping with death: help with grieving after loss