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Statement from Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO on the passage of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act

"Today, MHA and mental health advocates around the nation are celebrating the passage of the most comprehensive mental health systems reform legislation in more than fifty years.  We applaud the bipartisan action of the Congress, the support of the President, and the commitment of our elected officials to improving mental health services and supports in our nation.

"For too long, our behavioral health policy has been mired in post-crisis, deep-end, stage four thinking.  We have spent far too much time and far too many resources dealing with mental illnesses in courtrooms, jails, and prisons, maintaining a 21st century revolving door of routine hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness.  Meanwhile, we have spent far too little time investing in prevention, early identification and intervention, and integrated health and behavioral health services that promote recovery and change the trajectories of lives for the better.

"Now this will begin to change. As a result of this legislation, we are laying a new foundation for comprehensive mental health services and supports beginning when most mental illnesses begin – during childhood – and continuing through the life span. 

"The role of SAMHSA – the lead federal agency supporting the behavioral health of the population – will be enhanced, led by a new Assistant Secretary-level leader.  Innovative and evidence-based programs for children and adults will be established and funded.  A new Interagency Council will coordinate activities across federal agencies.  More support will be given to integrating health and behavioral health care, and to the workforce development needed to make this real.  Oversight of federal parity legislation will be strengthened.  Privacy rules will be clarified.  The legal rights of people with behavioral illnesses will be protected.  Suicide prevention programs will be underscored.  For those who need them, crisis intervention services will be enhanced and – on multiple levels – we will see new efforts to end the practice of sending people with behavioral health needs to jails and prisons for no good reason and to provide for the housing, education, and employment supports children and adults need to survive and thrive.

"We commend the entire Congress, but single out Representative Tim Murphy for his determined and ongoing effort to make this happen – and for his willingness to compromise to bring this to a good conclusion; his House co-sponsor, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, for her consistent support for change; Senator Chris Murphy, for his sponsorship of reform efforts and leadership in the Senate in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy; and Senator Bill Cassidy, his Senate co-sponsor, for his unwavering effort in making this a personal priority as well. The House and Senate leaders of both parties, both at the committee and full chamber levels, have also earned our deep gratitude and praise.

"This will by no means be the end of our efforts toward reform.  As Representative Murphy has noted, we needed what we did get, but we did not get all that we needed.  We will need to build on this foundation in the coming months and years, adding more resources to new programs, further enhancing the workforce, making certain that health parity prevails, making sure that our own personal health information is controlled by us as individuals – not by corporate providers – and can flow freely among our clinicians when we want it to, strengthening the linkages between educators and health professionals for children, and enhancing the system of services and supports that are present “B4Stage4.”

"These are the challenges that still await us in 2017 and beyond. But for now, let’s celebrate. Advocates for mental health have scored a major victory here, and we take pride in the role Mental Health America and our affiliates played in helping to make this happen."     

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