Congress Passes Monumental Mental Health Reform Bill

In a rare display of bipartisanship, nearly every member of the U.S. Congress voted in a favor of a monumental mental health reform package. The legislation, which was designed to address current gaps in mental health services, such as a lack of qualified staff and a shortage of beds for patients in crisis, will now head to the Senate for approval.

According to the non-profit organization Mental Health America more than 57 percent of people who are impacted by mental illness have not received treatment within the past year. On top of that, mental health facilities across the country report a lack of beds for patients in crisis. It’s estimated that at least 100,000 beds would be needed to effectively address the needs of all patients.

While Congress did not go that far, the legislation does increase funding for additional hospital beds. It also expands access to local mental health services, including treatment by a qualified psychiatrist. In addition, the bill provides for Medicaid to conditionally cover mental health services. It also allows parents of seriously mentally ill adults to access their son or daughter’s medical records and treatment plans.

According to NBC, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which was created to oversee the nation’s mental health system, does not employ a single Psychiatrist. The legislation addresses this problem by providing funding for the agency to hire qualified staff. It also creates a new position, ‘Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders,’ to head up SAMHSA. The person selected to hold the position must be a psychiatrist or psychologist.

While mental health advocates say they would have liked the bill to go farther, most believe it would be a positive first step toward reforming America’s failing mental health system.

As NBC reports here, the bill is the most comprehensive mental health system reform package since the early 1960’s. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) passed the House on July 6, with 422 representatives voting in favor and only two voting against. According to govtrack.us, the bill now has a 27 percent chance of being signed into law.


Featured image via wikipedia public domain