In Brief

America's mental health system should be built on an integrated, strength-based, people-focused set of services, according to two APA Members who testified at the second meeting of President George W. Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, on July 19 in Washington, D.C.

The commission's charge is to conduct a comprehensive study of the U.S. mental health service delivery system and advise President Bush on how to improve the system for people with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbances.

Testifying on behalf of APA, Diane Marsh, PhD, chair of APA's Task Force on Serious Mental Illness and Serious Emotional Disturbance, urged the commission to recognize the diagnostic and treatment challenges that characterize mental health care across the life span. She also stressed the need to attend to the human context of mental disorders by focusing on the people beyond the symptoms, as well as the impact on their families. Marsh spoke on a panel of four mental health provider organizations.

She recommended that the mental health-care system:

  • Support research that has clinical utility and reflects both real-world conditions and diverse populations.

  • Increase federal funding for graduate education interdisciplinary training and continuing education.

  • Integrate adults and children with mental disorders into the community by passing full mental health parity legislation, and "by implementing systems of care that are person-centered, family-focused, community-based, developmentally appropriate, linguistically and culturally competent, and geographically accessible."

Marsh said there was "much cause for optimism in the availability of a wide range of effective and innovative treatments and services." The challenge, she added, is to "ensure that these interventions reach all those who need them, and to deliver those services in a manner that promotes health, resilience and self-determination."

Psychologist Robert Friedman, PhD, professor and chair of the department of child and family studies at the University of South Florida, shared a similar tone in his vision for an improved system.

He called for a children's mental health system that, among other things:

  • Provides services that focus on home and community-based services.

  • Involves partnerships between health-care professionals and parents.

  • Builds on strengths of children and families and on the best available research findings.

"There's a long way to go in providing access to services, improving practice and bringing about necessary system changes," he said.

--J. DAW