(9-13-16) A gadfly is a person who interferes with the status quo by posing novel, potently upsetting questions, usually directed at authorities. Mental health gadfly D. J. Jaffe, who along with Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, frequently stirs up controversy in mental health circles, claims that Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s mental health plan, which I cited in an August blog, isn’t as good as the mental health legislation that could be voted on in the Senate this week. Meanwhile, Clinton’s rival — Republican Donald Trump — has not offered any ideas about fixing our mental health care system.
Donald Trump has not introduced a mental health plan, so we can’t evaluate it. But Hillary Clinton did introduce a mental health plan. Unfortunately it is not as good as the bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H. R. 2646), which passed the House by a vote of 422-2, and should be taken up by the Senate this week. It is not even as good a bill as combining Senator Alexander’s Mental Health Reform Act (S2680) with Senator Cornyn’s Mental Health and Safe Communities Act (S2002) would be.
The Clinton plan largely focuses on improving mental wellness in everyone, rather than helping the most seriously mentally ill. There are forty-three million Americans who have a mental health issue, but only ten million, have “serious mental illnesses” including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 140,000 of the seriously ill are homeless, 365,000 are incarcerated, and 95,000 who need hospitalization can’t get it. That is the problem we have to focus on.
More money may not be the immediate answer. The federal government already increased mental health spending to $147 billion but at the same time, it made the ability to get care inversely related to the severity of the illness. The easiest to treat go to the head of the line for services and the seriously ill go to jails, shelters and morgues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), encourages spending to go to irrelevant and useless programs and some that are actually harmful. H.R. 2646 puts a doctor at the helm of SAMHSA to try to stop that. The Clinton plan ignores the issue.
People who are psychotic and delusional, those who are hallucinating and “know” they are the Messiah, need hospital beds in order to get better. But there are so few psychiatric beds that a Catch-22 scenario has developed. Anyone with mental illness who is well enough to walk in to a hospital and ask for admission is deemed not sick enough to need it. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act takes a small step to ameliorate the shortage of hospital beds. The Clinton plan won’t even go that far.
I urge those who want to improve the mental health system to call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at (202) 224-2541 and the Democrat’s Senate Leader, Harry Reid at (202) 224-3542. Ask them to have the Senate pass the bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, HR2646 which passed House 422-2. You can also tweet to Senator Mitch McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) and Harry Reid (@SenatorReid)
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