Understanding Severe Mental Illness to Rebuild Lives

mh_article4On July 6, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was passed in the House of Representative. The bill will help to address gaps in the nation’s mental health system by providing more hospital beds for people living with a mental illness who will need short-term hospitalization. Introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a practicing psychologist, the bill specifically focuses on programs and services of psychiatric care for patients and families most in need of services. The Senate will vote on a similar bill by the end of the year. According to a memorandum regarding an investigation of federal programs addressing severe mental illness (SMI) from the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, “effective care continues to elude many of the estimated 11.4 million American adults suffering from SMI, placing their own lives, and sometimes those around them, at risk.” During a public forum discussing the reduction of hospitalizations, victimization, and incarceration for individuals living with SMI, reports of increased incarceration of individuals with mental illness were significant. “This trend also has been driven by the fact that many States continue to demand that an individual reach the point of posing an imminent danger, or ‘danger to self or others’ before parents and others can intervene.” Despite the $130 billion bill the federal government pays toward mental health care each year, there is still a shortage of about 100,000 psychiatric beds in the U.S. and some of the largest mental health care facilities in the country are in jails in Los Angeles, New York’s Rikers Island and Chicago’s Cook County, according to Anna Merod, a reporter for NBCNews.com, in a recent article, “House Passes Most Significant Mental Health Reform Bill in Decades. The work to address mental health illness is vast. Most pressing is also the importance of targeting funds for mental health to areas with the greatest impacts on public health and safety, as reported by the Committee. Addressing the lack of training of emergency medical services personnel, primary care physicians, and law enforcement is also of concern, which has informed the bill. As an agency that was founded by a group of concerned residents of the Canoga Park “Barrios” community, we are invested in the growing apprehensions of our clients and families who are impacted by the judicial system. We must continue to be advocates for effective and collaborative mental health prevention and intervention programs and services provided to individuals who live with severe mental illness and find themselves in a courtroom. Simply having judges, attorneys, physicians, and police officers trained to better understand the barriers these individuals face when living with severe mental illness is a step in reducing the incarceration rate and referring them to the proper treatment programs to recover from traumas, restore dignity, and rebuild their lives.