When people are sick – recovering from surgery, undergoing chemotherapy, or stuck in a hospital bed – we know it takes many hands to get them well. Family members become babysitters. Friends become chefs. Neighbors become drivers. The community bands together to provide help.
Unfortunately, for the more than 40 million American adults living with mental health conditions, such generous offers rarely occur. In fact, most of us only pay attention to mental illness when it appears to be related to an act of mass violence, and on those occasions, we seem to spend more energy assigning blame that committing to solutions.
Last month, after years of false starts and dead ends, progress finally occurred when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, by an overwhelming 422-2 margin.
It is true that H.R. 2646 still has its critics, as there remain many issues on which interested parties differ. However, for years we have been trapped in a cycle of inaction as we have failed to heed Voltaire’s ageless advice: We have let the perfect be the enemy of good.
I was recently able to attend a “Mental Health Policy Innovations” community event hosted by Representative Bob Dold, our local Congressman in Illinois’ 10th District. One of his guests was Representative Tim Murphy, H.R. 2646’s champion and a longtime advocate for mental health reform. Listening to both Congressmen discuss the years of contentious debate and labored process it has taken to get to H.R. 2646’s passage reinforced this bill’s importance as a critical starting point.
We are a long way from where we need to be as it relates to caring for people living with mental illnesses. More than 25 percent of our American adult population lives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, or anxiety disorders. Nearly 60 percent of those individuals did not receive mental health services within the last year. To adequately deal with those harrowing statistics, we need major breakthroughs: More and better treatment options, a vast increase in mental health professionals (especially in poor urban and rural areas), more programs that are geared towards early intervention, and better use of telehealth technology to assist patients with getting help. But momentum starts with action: Let’s turn this bill into law and keep going.
Mental health reform is too complex to solve in one fell swoop. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re going to have to tackle these issues incrementally and that progress is progress. In the midst of an election season, if any piece of legislation can rally the support of 99.5 percent of the House of Representatives, it deserves serious consideration by the Senate. I hope that before the summer is out, the Senate considers H.R. 2646 and passes a clean bill that’s not weighted down by the unnecessary addition of unrelated special interests. People impacted by mental illness deserve action and – after decades of standstill – the chance to move forward is finally within our grasp.