The most sweeping reform of the nation’s mental health laws in the past 50 years was signed by the president this week, offering hope to millions of families struggling with a devastating illness. Nearly one out of four Americans experience some form of mental illness in a given year.
In a strong display of bipartisanship, Congress and the president approved the 21st Century Cures Act, which will remove roadblocks to family involvement in the care of their loved ones, integrate mental health into primary care services, train new behavioral health providers and instruct law enforcement officers on how to assist individuals in crisis.
Among other things, this legislation will:
▪ Help families and caregivers who are supporting their loved ones but locked out from the treatment process due to bureaucratic red tape. This law moves to reform privacy regulations by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify when doctors can provide vital information about loved ones suffering from mental illness in order to protect their health and safety.
▪ Allow police departments across the country to create mental health response programs, such as crisis intervention teams. Law enforcement officials are often the first on the scene when an individual is in crisis.
▪ Create key grant programs focused on suicide prevention and early-intervention for teens and adults, as well as increasing the nation’s mental health workforce. The law will also help tele-psychiatry programs continue their crucial work to connect individuals in rural communities with mental health providers.
The importance of this legislation cannot be understated as it represents a multiyear effort that will help people feel better, get better and live stable and productive lives.
At town halls across my district, I’ve heard countless stories from parents who have witnessed their children spiral into a tragic cycle of homelessness and incarceration as a result of their mental illness going untreated. They feel betrayed by the government’s inadequate response.
Nearly all of the nation’s leading mental health advocacy groups have backed the bill. Locally, NAMI Sarasota and Centerstone Behavioral Hospital and Outpatient Practice, also expressed their strong support.
The Helping Families in Mental Health Families Act, included in the 21st Century Cures bill, ushers in a new era of mental health care for Americans who suffer from mental illnesses.
The new law brings accountability and structure to the more than 100 federal programs meant to help Americans afflicted with mental illness. Right now, these programs — strung across eight different agencies — lack coordination and often fail to help the people they’re intended to help. This legislation fixes those problems by creating a new assistant secretary in HHS who will be responsible for streamlining this disjointed network of programs, and driving evidence-based care. The assistant secretary will also work with other federal agencies, including Veterans Affairs, to reduce chronic homelessness.
While there’s still much more work to do on this issue, I’m confident this law is a remarkable triumph for a lot of Americans who haven’t had easy lives. And I’m going to keep pushing to support men and women of all ages suffering from mental illness on their path to recovery.
Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, represents Florida’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Manatee County.