WARWICK, RI – U.S. Senator Jack Reed today joined with mental health and community leaders at the Kent Center in Warwick to discuss initiatives to improve mental health services and strengthen efforts to identify, treat, and care for people who are experiencing mental and behavioral health issues.  Reed was joined by David Lauterbach, President of the Kent Center; Charles Gross, Executive Director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); and Laurie Kiely, a social worker and field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

According to a 2011 federal report, Rhode Island has one of the highest rates in the nation of adults suffering from mental illness.  NAMI Rhode Island found that 38,000 adults and 11,000 children in Rhode Island live with serious mental illness.  Nationwide, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General has found that fewer than half of the people with severe mental disorders receive treatment of any kind in a given year.

“Too many individuals struggling with mental illness still can’t access the care they need.  This is a vulnerable population that would be best served by early intervention and treatment.  We need to ensure they have easy access to help, just like they would for any physical illness.  Community Mental Health Centers in Rhode Island play a vital and cost-effective role in caring for individuals and families in need,” said Reed, who authored a provision in the Affordable Care Act enabling Community Mental Health Centers to expand their mission to be a one-stop-shop for mental health and primary care.  The Kent Center was one of the first in the country to receive a $2 million, four-year commitment through this effort.

A leading Senate advocate for quality mental health services and improving mental health coverage, Reed is seeking to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and increase access to effective, affordable mental health treatment for all Rhode Islanders.

In 2013, Reed has introduced and co-authored several bills to improve our mental health system, including:

•             The Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bipartisan effort with U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), with key provisions written by Senator Reed, to provide critical resources to help build and expand community mental health centers and bring Medicaid-funded mental health services to 1.5 million eligible Americans in need of assistance.

•             The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization, a bipartisan bill Reed authored with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to help improve access to counseling for at-risk children, adolescents, and young adults and promote the development of statewide and campus-based suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.  It would also authorize increased federal funding for competitive grants to help states, colleges, universities, and tribes improve mental and behavioral health counseling services.

•             The Mental Health First Aid Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and cosponsored by Reed, would authorize a demonstration program to support mental health first aid trainings nationwide in order to help individuals better identify, understand, and respond to the signs of mental illnesses and addiction disorders.

•             The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) and cosponsored by Reed, would help make communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment.  The bill also focuses on giving first responders the tools they need to better recognize the signs of mental illness and connect people with the care they need, and extends the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) for five years, to continue support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams.

Reed is seeking to add key provisions from these bills to gun violence prevention legislation that is expected to be debated by the Senate next week.

Reed also noted this “is a critical moment in this country when it comes to mental health funding.”  Starting April 1st, the sequester will reduce grants made possible by the Mental Health Block Grant to community-based mental health and addiction programs across the country by $168 million.

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors estimates this could result in 373,000 adults with serious mental health issues and children with serious behavioral and emotional illness not receiving the mental health services they need.

“Our mental health system is already under stress and if sequestration prevents people from getting the treatment they need, the consequences could be tragic.  Reducing funding for mental health care in the short-term can be more costly over the long-term,” said Reed, noting that making it more difficult for people experiencing mental illness to access treatment could divert more people to avoidable hospitalizations and costly emergency room care.

“Next week, as the Senate debates gun safety legislation, I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to add provisions that would increase access to effective, affordable mental health treatment,” concluded Reed.

After the event, Reed toured the Kent Center, which was founded in 1976 with the mission of improving the quality of life for men, women, children, and families facing behavioral health challenges