Change may be coming for how mental health is addressed with the passage of U.S. Reps. Timothy Murphy's (R-PA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D-TX) revised mental health reform legislation, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646).
It passed with an 18-to-12 vote in the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Health Subcommittee last week and will now move on to the full committee for consideration.
The bill, with its emphasis on early detection, promises to make some big impacts on patients and caregivers, Erin Wallace told Patient Daily. Wallace is the senior director of strategic communications and marketing for Mental Health America (MHA).
“The Murphy-Johnson legislation’s emphasis on screening and early intervention, addressing mental illness before Stage 4 — for both individuals and caregivers alike — is a critical step forward toward treating mental illnesses like we treat every other chronic disease in America, and toward changing the trajectories of lives impacted by illnesses that people acquire — most frequently during childhood — through no fault of their own,” Wallace said.
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5 percent) experience mental illness in a given year, and approximately 10 million live with a serious illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Health.
Additionally, 1 in 5 youths aged 13 to 18 (21.4 percent) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life, while 13 percent of children ages 8 to 15 suffers from a several mental illness.
The MHA has been urging Congress to come together to pass the strongest reform possible, according to Wallace. She stated that her association has actively offered their ideas and commended both sides for their efforts so far. They believe that compromise is possible and far preferable to doing nothing.
“Too many Americans are suffering, and far too many are not receiving the services they need to lead health and productive lives," Wallace said. "When almost two thirds of young people who have depression for instance are not getting treatment they need, that is shameful. Regardless of where you live, we must improve access to care and treatments, and we should put a premium on early identification and early intervention for everyone with mental health concerns.”
Cementing their alarm, the MHA has continued to call for improvements to mental health reform. They want reform and legislation for: a national plan to end the incarceration of individuals with serious mental illnesses for nonviolent offenses within 10 years; strengthening Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefits; other coverage to promote early intervention; and an integration of mental health and schools, including community providers that bill insurance coordinated with Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams.
According to Wallace, access to treatment is of vital importance, more so than having access to insurance.
“Access to insurance does not mean access to treatment," she said. "MHA is concerned about the overall gap in mental health access. MHA recently released its annual State of Mental Health in America report, with startling numbers of how many Americans are not receiving the necessary treatments for mental health and substance use issues. Of particular concern is that, even among our most severely depressed youth, only 22 percent are receiving adequate treatment for their mental health problems. Nationally, 57 percent of adults with mental illness receive no treatment. Even in the highest ranking states, only about half of all adults with mental illness receive any mental health treatment — showing that access to treatment remains a serious problem."
Wallace said the reality is that available mental health providers are scarce.
"In states with the greatest number of available mental health providers, there are approximately 250 individuals for every one mental health provider," she said. "In states with the lowest number, there are approximately 1,100 individuals for every one provider — that is more than 4 times less access to treatment providers in lower ranking states.”
As HR 2646 faces approval, the MHA has continued to diligently work and promote awareness and prevention. Its work is guided by a “Before Stage 4” philosophy in which mental health conditions be treated long before they reach the most critical points.
“One way of addressing mental health concerns before they reach Stage 4 is through screening," Wallace said. "MHA’s screening program provides a collection of online, free, anonymous, confidential and validated screening tools that can help individuals understand and learn about their mental health.”
Patients are screened for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis, alcohol and substance use.
“The results are given immediately to individuals … so that they can seek the follow-up help and resources they need, and are used by MHA to understand the needs of individuals seeking help from MHA and our affiliates, and to advocate for improved access to mental health care," Wallace said.
Wallace also stated that prevention, early intervention and recovery-oriented integrated treatment and services are far, far better than the revolving door of homelessness, infrequent hospitalization and frequent incarceration that currently passes for this country’s mental health care system. It is time for a change, she asserted.
“It’s time to erase the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental illness, to address mental health before Stage 4, and to intervene effectively to save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses," Wallace said. "Doing nothing is not an option.”