U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., deserves our thanks for making mental health a priority in this country’s health care conversations, and for advocating for a mechanism that is working.
Blunt now wants Congress to extend and possibly expand the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act, which was signed into law five years ago.
We say: Follow Blunt’s lead.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate recently, Blunt said: “Somewhere between one in four and one in five adult Americans, (according to the National Institutes of Health) have a mental health problem that is diagnosable and almost always treatable but less than half of the people who have that problem actually receive the care they need. These are people that are our neighbors, our family members, our colleagues.”
Blunt then offered a bull’s-eye summation of the last half century of mental health treatment in the United States, and our country’s missed moment. He noted that one of the last bills signed by former President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was the Community Mental Health Act. Among other things it aimed to establish community mental health centers around the country, citing evidence that mental health problems could be treated better and more effectively in a community setting than in psychiatric hospitals.
But nearly half of those treatment centers were never built, Blunt said, and many places that had been treating mental health closed.
“In that 50 years, the emergency room and local law enforcement became the de facto mental health system for the country and nobody has been well served by that,” Blunt testified. “Local law enforcement hasn’t been well served by that, emergency rooms haven’t been well served by that, and — most importantly — people with mental health challenges and their families have not been served by that.”
Five years ago, the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act pushed back on that failure.
It created an eight-state pilot program to provide mental health services at Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. Missouri is one of those states. According to Blunt, the clinics would offer 24/7 crisis services, outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment, immediate screenings, risk assessments and care coordination with hospitals, law enforcement and veterans groups.
It worked. Emergency room visits by the homeless were down, employment for those with mental health improved, and law enforcement contacts with people who have mental health issues also fell.
Blunt now wants to extend the program for another two years, and if money is available, expand it beyond those eight states.
We call on Congress to make this a priority.
And, again, our thanks to Blunt for his leadership on this too often overlooked issue.