Feature

To emphasize the need to carry out the recommendations of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, seven Republican and Democratic members of Congress endorsed a report by the Campaign for Mental Health Reform--a group that consists of 16 national mental health organizations, including APA--at a July 27 press conference that marked the second anniversary of the release of the commission's report.

The campaign's plan aims to help the federal government transform the delivery of mental health services and avert a mental health-care crisis that has caused the American economy to lose an estimated $158 billion in productivity in the past two years alone, according to Charles S. Konigsberg, the campaign's director.

"The Campaign for Mental Health Reform seeks to make mental health a national priority and to make early access, recovery and quality of mental health services the hallmarks of our nation's mental health system," said Konigsberg at the press conference.

The campaign's announcement came on the heels of a complementary plan released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)--the "Transforming Mental Health Care in America" federal action agenda (see sidebar).

Rep. Ted Strickland, PhD (D-Ohio), a psychologist, insisted at the press conference that quick action is needed in putting mental health reform in place.

"The time is now," he said. "In the meantime, there is human suffering, unnecessary human misery, and our society is losing the skills, talents [and] contributions that we need from these individuals."

Another conference speaker, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), argued that one of the biggest obstacles facing the campaign's plans is the public's lack of knowledge about mental health care.

"Often people say, 'Well, mental illness is something we shouldn't bother treating because you can't fix it,'" he said. "Well, you can't fix diabetes. You can't fix pulmonary disorders like asthma. But the fact of the matter is that you continue treatment for those chronic illnesses [just] like you continue treatment for mental illnesses."

To increase the public consciousness of mental health disorders and treatments and to transform the mental health system, the campaign's 28 steps include proposals to:

  • Enact mental health parity legislation this year.

  • Maximize Medicaid dollars by providing cost-effective home- and community-based care in lieu of institutional care, as well as permitting states to use Medicaid dollars for comprehensive treatment plans.

  • Allow families to buy into Medicaid to access services for a child with a disability.

  • End "warehousing" of youth with mental disorders and fund programs to divert people with mental illnesses who have committed nonviolent crimes into treatment instead of jail or prison.

  • Stop Medicare from requiring higher co-payments for mental health outpatient care and limiting inpatient hospital coverage for mental health treatment.

  • Provide early identification and effective treatment for returning service members and veterans at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as support for their families.

  • Provide early detection and intervention services to mothers and children who receive health care at federally funded maternal and child health clinics.

  • Permit presumptive eligibility for Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid for people who are homeless and have a serious mental illness.

To help put the proposals into place, APA aims to work within and outside the organization, says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

"When implemented, these plans will enable people with mental health disorders to receive more timely and more appropriate care coordinated within a workable mental health service-delivery system," says Anderson. "Our association looks forward to working with the campaign and SAMHSA to help make this mental health initiative a reality."

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