By Jonathan Cohn,
Remember all that empty political talk about improving mental health care? It may not be so empty after all.
Responding to the outrage over gun violence, both houses of Congress are considering bills designed to make treatment for serious psychiatric disorders more available and effective.
The leading House bill, from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), won approval from a key subcommittee last week. In the Senate, a similar bill from Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) will get preliminary hearings before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next month.
Both bills have bipartisan support. Both have endorsements from major organizations that work on mental health, including the American Psychiatric Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And while both proposals face significant political obstacles, including opposition from other mental health advocates, some kind of legislation has a real chance of passing Congress and getting the president’s signature by next year.
Whether enactment would actually reduce the incidence of gun violence is difficult to say. The vast majority of people with mental illness, like most people without mental illness, are not violent. But passage of something resembling either of the two bills could mean real improvement for people suffering from serious psychiatric ailments — people who, traditionally, have gotten a short shrift from the U.S. healthcare system.