By 1/4/16 12:03 AM
As Americans celebrate the holiday season, millions of families will have an empty chair at the table for a relative who is lost in our failed mental health system or is one of the more than 80,000 people with mental illnesses who died this year. These deaths are tragically unique in our public health system for two reasons: They are continually increasing in number yet fully preventable.
In the last decade there has been a decrease in the mortality rates for heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDs, car accidents and cancer. Yet, during the same time frame the rates for suicide have increased and since 2000 the rates for drug overdoses has increased 137 percent, including a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids.
This increase comes despite the federal government spending $130 billion on mental health alone. These Americans are experiencing a serious mental illness, a brain disease, but they are also suffering from failed federal policies that stop them from getting treatment: Medicaid rules that say you can’t see two doctors in the same day or go into a psychiatric hospital with more than 16 beds; privacy rules that block families from helping; and perverse laws that focus on the right to be sick instead of the right to be well.
In 2016, Congress must prioritize reforming our mental health system and pass the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646), which I introduced earlier this year. The legislation would reform and reorganize the lead federal agency responsible for improving the nation’s mental health and substance use treatment and prevention system, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA), which is in dire need of reorganization.