Mental health reform bill creates accountability

By Editorial Board


ter mass shootings, political commentators are quick to point fingers at the possible causes of violence. Some blame graphic video games and lax gun laws. Others say America’s mental health system is responsible for letting those who need help most slip through the cracks. However, a new bipartisan bill seeks to reform the mental health system to prevent those with mental illness from turning violent or suicidal. 

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 would grant accessibility to help for patients and their families in hopes of providing earlier treatment for mental illness. The bill was publicly supported by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) as a solution to the regularity of mass shootings in America. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), the only licensed clinical psychologist in Congress, introduced the bill June 4. Murphy introduced a similar bill in early 2013, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. 

The bill has been approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and will be voted on by the House in coming weeks. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness, but only 41 percent of those affected receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Lack of accessibility to quality treatment can leave those who need it most with few options. An estimated 26 percent of homeless adults and 20 percent of state prisoners live with mental disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The bill would remedy this by allocating federal funding for increasing the availability of beds at psychiatric hospitals and the capacity of  inpatient treatment facilities. A study by the Treatment Advocacy Center revealed the availability of psychiatric hospital beds in 2010 was identical to availability in 1850 at 14 beds per 100,000 people. 

While those living with mental illness may receive treatment plans, not all states hold the patient accountable for sticking to it. The bill would allow states to mandate court-ordered treatment such as therapy and medication to those with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to the legislation. Similar procedures, known as assisted outpatient treatment programs, exist in 45 states to some degree, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. The bill will create grants for states to utilize this practice more. While more legal accountability could result in more effective treatment, the legislation should only mandate court-ordered outpatient treatment when imminent danger is present. 

The bill also enhances the role a family plays in the treatment and recovery of their loved ones by clarifying the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which outlines patient privacy rights. Under HIPAA, physicians are frequently limited in what they can tell families. However, the Helping Families in Mental Health  Crisis Act outlines multiple instances in which families should be informed of a relative’s diagnosis, treatment plans, appointment scheduling, medication and medication-related instructions, according to the legislation. Providing families with more information about their relative’s diagnosis and treatment puts more support and accountability in place. This provision is critical to preventing tragedies and crises. However, some criticize this aspect of the bill because some families may not be understanding or supportive. Provisions should be put in place to ensure that revealing information only in necessary circumstances. 

Millions of Americans struggle to receive the help necessary to function, recover and treat their mental illnesses. Creating increased accountability for treatment through court-ordered outpatient therapy and providing more information to families can ensure those struggling with mental illness have the opportunity to receive quality treatment.