Americans sometimes pretend that ours is a society without taboos. But for many people, mental illness is still a subject to be avoided, even though it afflicts about one-fifth of us in some way.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association estimated last year that 11.4 million Americans suffered from severe mental illness in 2011. One of those was Adam Lanza, who slaughtered 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School just over a year ago.
Despite the toll mental illness takes on society, treatment options remain sadly limited. A bipartisan bill with a serious chance of passage by Congress could do a lot to change that.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) are chief sponsors of the proposed Excellence in Mental Health Act. It would give community health centers money to provide a range of mental health services, including 24-hour crisis care.
Most important, the bill would promote integration of services for substance abuse and physical and mental health problems, to make sure doctors are treating the person, not just symptoms. The goal, Senator Stabenow says, is to enable “people living with mental illness [to] get the care they need.”
This month, the Senate Finance Committee voted to send the bill to the full body for a vote. The sponsors also have learned from the Obamacare launch fiasco, and would first run a pilot program in 10 states.
The cost would be minimal by federal budget standards — $1.6 billion over a decade. But if the law prevented just one more fatal school shooting, it would be more than worth its expense.
“Our bipartisan bill expands access to care and improves quality of care, so people living with mental illness can get the treatment they need,” Ms. Stabenow says. The Senate should pass the bill as quickly as possible, and then the House should do the same.
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