RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – State residents want to see new investments to expand mental health and substance abuse treatment and services, according to the results of a new statewide poll.

A public opinion survey by co/efficient earlier this month found that when people heard the details of a $230 million state budget proposal to enhance behavioral health services, 76% of respondents supported cooperation between the Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate to approve the plan.

Support for the plan was strong across gender groups, partisan affiliation, age groups, ethnic groups and different regions across the state.

The 2022 Mental Health America state rankings currently has Virginia at 37th in access to mental health services, while data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the share of adults getting mental health treatment in the last year has increased each year from 2019 to 2021.

The survey noted the rise in demand for treatment is taking place just as health care providers, including behavioral health providers, still struggle with staffing shortages impacting treatment capacity.

The poll indicates strong voter support for more state investment in behavioral health services, and it also asked people about their own mental wellness, their thoughts on behavioral health care access in their communities and their opinions about specific parts of a state budget to make new investments in state behavioral health services.

One plan awaiting consideration in the 2023 state General Assembly session is the Right Help, Right Now plan, part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s $230 million package of budget amendments that would spread out new behavioral health system investments over a three-year period.

The poll also showed that:

  • Nearly three-fourths (72%) of Virginians polled said they believe that improving
    access to behavioral health services should be a “high priority” for the General
    Assembly, with strong support for legislative action across age, gender, political, and
    regional groups.
  • 70% of voters surveyed said they would be more likely to support the plan due
    to its proposed inclusion of funding for more than 30 new mobile crisis teams to respond
    to calls to Virginia’s 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Hotline to provide urgent help to people in
    need.
  • 72% of voters polled said they would be more likely to support the plan
    because it calls for funding to support mental health patient transportation to relieve the
    burden on police officers who often have to help transport patients in crisis.
  • 77% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to support the plan based on
    its intention to develop more community-based service capacity, enhance substance
    abuse services, and strengthen the behavioral health workforce.
  • And 81% said they would be more likely to support the proposal because it is
    designed to enhance access to same-day care for people in need, expand telehealth
    behavioral health treatment access, and provide housing support to people with serious
    mental illness.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association commissioned the co/efficient poll to help identify health care issues that state residents care about and inform the association’s approach to public policy engagement, and was taken among 598 registered state voters between Jan. 12-16.