Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined a bipartisan group of senators Thursday to introduce the Excellence in Mental Health Act to strengthen mental health services. The bill, introduced in the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, would help integrate the primary health system and mental and behavioral health care, to allow us to begin addressing the significant unmet need for mental health services in our communities. The bill is also sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and cosponsors include Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The senators pointed out that studies show that individuals with serious mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators. But in the absence of timely diagnosis, early intervention, and treatment, people experiencing illness are at risk of committing acts of violence -- at a rate 15 times higher than those in treatment.
Leahy said, "Ensuring that those suffering from mental illness have access to the health care and support they need is important for many reasons. One reason is to help prevent debilitating mental and behavioral health problems, suicide, and violent acts like we saw at an elementary school in Connecticut."
The Excellence in Mental Health Act establishes criteria for Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Centers to ensure the centers cover a broad range of mental health services -- including 24-hour crisis care, increased integration of physical, mental and substance abuse treatment so they are treated simultaneously rather than separately, and expanded support for families of people living with mental health issues.