WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to strengthen our nation’s mental health system, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today joined David O. Russell, the director of Silver Linings Playbook, and a bipartisan group of Senators at a press conference in Washington, DC to introduce the Excellence in Mental Health Act. Coauthored by Reed and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), this legislation authorizes critical resources to help build and expand community mental health centers and help pay for the counseling and other services the qualified mental health professionals working in these centers can provide.
“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,” said Reed, who wrote key sections of the bill to authorize funding to modernize existing community mental health centers and build new ones to help meet growing demand for mental health services.
The Stabenow-Blunt-Reed bill would establish 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 would also expand 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. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 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.
“Community Mental Health Centers play a vital and cost-effective role in caring for these individuals and families in their communities. While this remains a difficult budgetary environment, we can’t let our community mental health centers and the people they serve fall through the cracks,” said Reed. “I am pleased the Excellence in Mental Health Act has bipartisan backing and I hope we can overcome the odds to see it – as well as other critical measures to address our mental health system – signed into law.”
“Most people living with mental illness are not a danger to themselves or anyone else,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow. “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.”
“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,” said Senator Roy Blunt.
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 (based on the book of the same name) for and directing Silver Linings Playbook, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards this year. The film explores the life of a man living with bipolar disorder who moves in with his parents following his release from a psychiatric hospital and tries to rebuild his life.
David O. Russell stated: “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.”
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. Authorizing the expansion of Community Mental Health Centers and the ability to receive higher reimbursement for more comprehensive services, as the Excellence in Mental Health Act does, would help treat individuals and families in need.