The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an unprecedented crisis in the U.S. that disrupted our daily lives and caused extreme stress, isolation, trauma and loss. At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, many states’ legislative sessions were cut short, and state legislators had to prioritize the most urgent policy actions needed to support their residents through the immediate crisis. Fortunately, the enormous impact of the pandemic on mental health was not ignored by leaders and decision-makers, and in fact, mental health came into national focus like never before.

Because of the unique nature of the issues addressed and the focus of state legislators during this time, the report is a showcase of significant state mental health legislation that was enacted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in calendar years 2020 and 2021.

The report explains key trends in mental health policy and offers lessons from NAMI State Organization leaders who played important roles in shaping some of these policies.

The report’s analysis is divided into three main sections based on the topic area pillars of the NAMI 2020-2025 Strategic Plan: people should get help early, get the best possible care and be diverted from criminal justice system involvement.

Areas of focus covered in the report include:

  • Early intervention
  • School mental health
  • Mental health and substance use parity
  • Medication access
  • Service expansion
  • Inclusive and culturally competent care
  • Crisis response
  • Diversion
  • Rehabilitation and reentry

Due to the breadth of issues impacting mental health, this report is not comprehensive of all possible issue areas and related legislation.

Mental health was front and center in states’ policymaking in 2020 and 2021, following a trend in recent years that was accelerated by concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Progress was made in a variety of issues such as:

  • Addressing the needs of youth
  • Strengthening the implementation of both federal and state parity requirements
  • Making more telehealth options available
  • Building a comprehensive behavioral health crisis care system
  • Reducing justice system involvement for people with mental illness

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).