Better mental health care is often advocated as a way to reduce gun violence. A bill passed through Congress with that idea in mind, but health providers told Senator Kyrsten Sinema they need more mental health counselors.

Mental health and gun violence are often tied together. Health professionals are saying now since the pandemic the need for mental health care has gone much higher. But theyre not finding enough people to fill those positions.

Part of a gun safety bill Senator Kyrsten Sinema worked to pass through Congress last year devotes $15 Billion dollars to help prevent violence through mental health care. But in a roundtable at the headquarters of El Rio Healthcare, health professionals told the Senator the hangover of stress and isolation from the pandemic raised the need for mental health care but there are not enough mental health professionals to meet the demand.

Mimi Coomler, the CEO of Tucson Medical Center, says shortages reach beyond the mental health professionals. They include the family doctors who might be the first to see mental health trouble develop.

We do not have enough primary care physicians in southern Arizona, and that is only going to get worse as our population grows, the demands of the health care demands of that population grows. We do not have enough physicians or advanced practice providers to meet those needs. were very concerned about access to care.

Senator Sinema says the goal of the meeting was to learn the best way to distribute the $15 Billion the law devotes to applying mental health care to prevent violence.

One of the great things about the bill that we passed last year is we recognize that violence is deeply connected to unmet mental health needs. So we both passed legislation that makes it more difficult for young adults who have mental health challenges to get access to weapons. And we invest in billions of dollars in mental health services so they can get the help they need before engaging in violence amongst themselves or others.

Healthcare providers told Sinema that reliance on telehealth learned in the pandemic does not always work well with mental health counselingand that teens in particular prefer counseling in person.