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McCain vs. Obama on Mental Health & Psychology Issues

Their State’s Report Card

NAMI’s latest Grading the States report was in 2006 and neither candidate’s states fared very well. McCain’s home state of Arizona received a grade of “D” and Obama’s home state of Illinois received an “F.”

  Arizona (McCain)Illinois (Obama)
Per Capita Mental Health Spending:$126.33$66.12
Per Capita Income: $25,481$31,987
Total Mental Health Spending (in millions):$702$835
Suicide Rank (out of 50):644
Information Access: D-F
Recovery Supports:B+D
Overall Grade:DF

I will point out some obvious differences between the two states and candidates. McCain has been in Congress since 1982, some 26 years, representing his state’s interests. Obama, in contrast, has only been in Congress since 2005, and has had far less time to divert money or resources to his state to help with mental health concerns. Illinois is also home to Chicago, a far larger city than Arizona’s largest city, Phoenix. Large, older cities like Chicago tend to have larger, more intractable social systems in place that make it difficult to effect significant change. However, Illinois is spending only about half of what Arizona is spending on mental health care.

Neither state has done well on this “report card,” but I would also note that the report card itself is badly skewed to the negative end of the spectrum, with no state receiving an “A” grade and only a handful garnering a “B.” This report card reflects no Bell curve, but rather a skewed curve to forward NAMI’s own policy agenda of effecting significant change within states. One could argue that it’s perhaps more of a public relations tool than a serious piece of research.

We didn’t compare the Vice Presidential candidates’ stances on mental healthcare because, frankly, there’s no comparison. Senator Joe Biden has been a long-standing advocate in the Senate for people with health and mental health issues, including protection and full funding for Medicare and Medicaid programs. He also is on record for supporting full mental health parity and was co-sponsor of the bills brought before the Senate on this issue. His opponent, Gov. Sarah Palin, has no national record on mental health issues; Alaska received a “D” grade on NAMI’s report card (although Palin took office after this report card was released). Last week, Alaska and Gov. Palin were sued by the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights to address the “excessive, ineffective, and extremely harmful psychiatric drugging of Alaskan children and youth.” And her newsworthy mental health efforts in Alaska? Pushing for more aggressive development of the lands that Alaska’s Mental Health Trust owns.


Based upon our findings, we’d have to say the stronger mental health and psychology candidate is Obama. Whereas McCain tends to support mental health causes when in the majority, he doesn’t appear to go out on a limb for anything in the areas of mental health or psychological sciences funding. Obama, on the other hand, has co-sponsored a major piece of Senate legislation in mental health (mental health parity) and shows he understands the stigma still associated with mental health issues in his co-sponsorship of the Mothers Act.

The differences between these two candidates’s stances on mental health issues are not clearly significant. They both appear to appreciate that mental health often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to healthcare policy decisions in general, and we believe would both work to help end the discrimination that exists today for people with a mental illness.

  McCain Obama
NAMI Questionnaire Provided Statement Answered “Strongly Supports” to all questions
Medicare/Medicaid Votes NV, NV, NV NV, Yes, Yes
Federal Budgets No, Yes, Yes Yes, No, No
Mental Health Parity Yes Yes (Co-sponsor)
Mental Health Screenings Unknown Yes (Co-sponsor)
State’s Mental Health Rankings D (per capita spending: $126) F (per capita spending: $66)
Psych Central’s Ranking 2 1
NV = Did not vote

We think it is short-sighted and fairly ridiculous to vote on a presidential candidate on the basis of a single issue. So we will not be making presidential voting decisions based solely on the information found here.

But it can help one make a better informed decision about the candidate as a whole and help us understand whether they truly comprehend the complexity that people suffering from a mental disorder face in today’s society. We believe that both candidates do, but that Obama is a more vocal and forceful advocate for people who grapple with mental health concerns.

For More Information…

2008 Presidential Candidate Health Care Proposals: Side by Side Summary – Kaiser Family Foundation

Senator John McCain’s Health Care Plan

Senator Barack Obama’s Health Care Plan

McCain vs. Obama on Mental Health & Psychology Issues

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). McCain vs. Obama on Mental Health & Psychology Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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