In the past year, more than one in five Americans experienced mental illness. Tragically, over 40,000 Americans lost their lives to suicide in 2013. Despite this, many people with mental illness or substance use conditions and their families are unable to access needed care and are constantly challenged by a fragmented mental health delivery system. Far too many Americans with mental illness receive care not from physicians’ offices or hospitals, but rather from our nation’s jails and prisons. In most states, the largest mental health facility is a correctional facility.
Hope for change is within reach. When the U.S. Senate returns in September, it can pass the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, S.2680. The bill will help enforce an existing law mandating that mental health be covered just like physical health, and it will help coordinate federal resources currently spread over a number of agencies. Moreover, it extends investments in suicide prevention from youth to all ages.
Similar legislation overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in July. Time is running out for Congress. The Senate must act now to ensure that patients with mental illness receive the care they need and deserve.
Jeffrey Sung, MD, president of the Washington State Psychiatric Association