Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Mental Health Services

Press Release

By:  Susan Collins Debbie Stabenow Roy Blunt Jack Reed Marco Rubio Patrick Leahy Barbara Boxer
Date: Feb. 7, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

A bipartisan group of Senators today introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act to strengthen our nation's mental health services. The bill, introduced in the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, puts mental health centers on more equal footing with other health centers by improving quality standards and expanding access to ensure more people can get the mental health care they need. The bill is sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), along with a bipartisan group of colleagues including Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Studies show that individuals with a serious mental illness are actually more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. However, in the absence of timely diagnosis, early intervention and treatment, people experiencing first break psychosis are at risk of committing acts of violence--at a rate 15 times higher than those in treatment.

The group of bipartisan senators was joined by David O. Russell, Oscar-nominated director of Silver Linings Playbook, to discuss the importance of removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Mr. Russell's experience with his son, Matthew, living with mood disorders led to his writing the screenplay for (based on the book of the same name) and directing Silver Linings Playbook, which was nominated for 8 Academy Awards this year. The film explores the life of Pat Solatano, Jr. (played by Bradley Cooper), a man living with bipolar disorder who moves in with his parents following his release from a mental health institution and tries to rebuild his life. Mr. Russell discussed the need to de-stigmatize mental illness and expand coverage to ensure people get the care they need.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), said: "Most people living with mental illness are not a danger to themselves or anyone else. But the cost of inadequate treatment can be dire in some cases. In the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut and too many others like it, it is important to do everything possible to keep our children safe. Strengthening our mental health services is a critical part of that."

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), said: "In the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook, we must work together to spend federal dollars more wisely when treating people who are mentally ill. This bill will help address our fragmented mental health system and ensure that more patients have access to the care they need by offering current Community Mental Health Centers a chance to expand their services and obtain the Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Center designation."

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), said: "Too often the stigma of mental illness prevents individuals from seeking diagnosis and treatment. Thankfully, we are making strides in meeting this challenge, but we must ensure those who need treatment have access to it. Community Mental Health Centers play a vital role in helping individuals get the care they need to lead healthier, more productive lives. In this era of slashed budgets, we can't let community mental health centers and the people they serve fall through the cracks. This bill authorizes critical resources to build and expand community mental health centers and help pay for the treatments provided. These centers treat seriously mentally ill children and adults who otherwise wouldn't have access to life-saving care. This is a vulnerable population and we need to ensure they have access to help, just like they would for any physical illness."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), said: "America must approach the issue of mental illness with the care, attention and compassion that it deserves. Through recent acts of violence, we have seen the tragic cost that can come from untreated mental illnesses. The Excellence in Mental Health Act will save lives by addressing violence at its source and will ease the struggles of countless individuals and families dealing with mental illness."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), said: "This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that those who suffer from mental illness are able to get the care they need. By expanding access to quality mental health care, I believe we can reduce violence and save lives."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), said: "In the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, it is clear that we need to take a serious look at our mental health system. Our current system is fragmented, and patients with serious mental illness all too often lack access to the care that they need. Our bill will help address this problem by expanding access to mental health care for individuals, regardless of their ability to pay, through our nation's Community Mental Health Centers. It will also help to improve the quality of mental health care by holding these centers accountable to higher standards."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), 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."

David O. Russell, Oscar-Nominated Director of Silver Linings Playbook, said: "We must continue working to remove the stigma from mental illness in our society and expand care for those living with mental illness who need it. We talk about diabetes, we talk about heart disease, so why can't we talk about mental illness in a regular way? It was very important for me to have done this movie, to talk about a very personal experience with mental illness and open a dialogue. "

Malkia Newman, Board Chair, Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, said: "I lived over 30 years with undiagnosed Bi-Polar Disorder. But my life is a testament to the fact that recovery is possible, thanks to the services and supports that I received through the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority. What makes me worried is that so many other people can't get access to the services I got. My message to Congress is: please pass this bill so that everyone can get the mental health help they need."

Linda Rosenberg, President/CEO of National Council for Behavioral Health, said: "Being comfortable with openly talking about mental illness and engaging those living with mental illness and their families can increase the likelihood we may be able to help and direct the person to proper treatment. Even when friends and family of someone who appears to be developing mental illness can tell that something is amiss, they may not know how to intervene and get that person proper care. This legislation can help overcome these barriers and connect people to care."

Sheriff Brian Gootkin, Sheriff of Gallatin County, MT, said: "I've been in law enforcement since 1993, and in the Air Force before that, and I've seen how dire the consequences can be when those living with mental illness and their families do not get the care they need. That is why it is more important than ever that we strengthen our mental health services across the nation."

Nancy Smith, Mother of a daughter with a severe emotional disorder, said: "Community mental health services saved my daughter's life and her future. Our family was lucky and we were able to link her with Community Connections, but there are still gaps in the system. The Excellence in Mental Health Act will enable community mental health programs to offer a broader array of services for people like our daughter."

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.

The legislation also expands access to America's 2,000 Community Mental Health Centers by supporting the modernization of existing centers and the construction of new behavioral health centers. Community Mental Health Centers currently serve over 8 million people, including 2.2 million young people. With at least 25% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing some type of mental health condition, Community Mental Health Centers are expected to soon be serving 200,000 veterans.

According to a national survey, one-third of the 4.8 million people suffering from mood disorders do not receive treatment, and fewer than half of the people with severe mental disorders receive treatment of any kind in a given year. The current lack of access to quality care ultimately forces local law enforcement to respond to psychiatric emergencies and diverts officers from other duties. Expanded centers providing more services will be able to treat up to 1.5 million additional people as a result of this legislation.