Congress Passes Mental Health Reforms

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Guest Commentary

On December 7, 2016, the United States Senate passed the 21st Century Cues Act which included Congressman Tim Murphy’s (R-PA) “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” and Senator John Cornyn’s (R-TX) “Mental Health and Safe Communities Act.” The bill passed 94-5, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 13.

Rep. Tim Murphy has for the past few years, been very blunt in his assessment of the abysmal failure of our broken mental health system. He understood the pain and frustrations families faced in getting care for loved ones struggling with severe mental illness. He recognized that a complete overhaul of our broken system was needed to meet the needs of the sickest and most vulnerable Americans.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Congressman Murphy, a clinical psychologist, was asked by House leaders to investigate mental health treatment in the U.S. What he found was a chaotic patchwork of antiquated protections and ineffective policies across numerous federal agencies. He traveled to every corner of the nation, listening to doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, experts and advocates, and most importantly, to patients and their families.

Through congressional hearings and in-depth investigations, he discovered a shocking disconnect between 112 federal agencies who are assigned to treat the mentally ill. He exposed a $130 million dollar investment in a system that has done little but watch the rates of homelessness, incarceration, suicide and drug overdose deaths soar.

Congressman Murphy noted that with the historic passage of this bill, “we are ending the era of stigma surrounding mental illness and focusing on delivering treatment before tragedy. By bringing research, treatments and cures into the 21st Century, we are finally breaking down the wall between physical health and mental health.”

Among other provisions, the mental health portion of the bill includes:

. Elevating the topic of mental health by creating a federal position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse who would be appointed by the President and have a clinical background.

. Establishing new grant programs for early intervention.

. Directing states to only fund evidence-based mental health initiatives with a proven track record.

. Removing barriers to individuals accessing mental health care and                              services.

. Requiring the U.S. Attorney General to direct federal judges to operate mental health court pilot programs, allowing incarcerated mentally ill offenders to be diverted from prison to residential treatment facilities or other forms of treatment-based supervised release.

. Expanding access to mental healthcare providers and beds for patients.

. Requiring health insurance companies to cover more mental health treatments.

. Requiring substantial new data collection between mental illness and the criminal justice system that has been unexamined or ignored for decades.

. Clarifying the HIPPA quagmire so health care providers and families understand the circumstances under which they can share and provide protected information about a loved one with serious mental illness.

. Strengthening and expanding critical Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs to help break the revolving-door cycle.

. Establishing a federal adult suicide-prevention program.

This historic piece of legislation focuses on delivering treatment before tragedy. It will save lives.

I would like to personally thank Congressman Murphy for his steadfastness in getting the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis bill through Congress despite all its many obstacles and delays. Although too late to help my son who suffered from several bipolar disorder resulting in suicide, this bill will help the families of the 8.1 million adults who struggle with severe mental illness.

 

Dottie Pacharis
Author, Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle and Mental Health Advocate