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Comprehensive Mental Health Reform Essential to the Future of Psychiatry

     

As president of the American Psychiatric Association, I had the distinct privilege today of participating in the Senate Mental Health Summit, a bi-partisan event on Capitol Hill hosted by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), co-authors of the Mental Health Reform Act. The bill is part of a growing movement within Congress aimed at reforming the nation’s mental health care system. It is a movement that that APA wholeheartedly supports.

As part of that effort, the Senate Mental Health Summit brought together people from all sides of this issue, including mental health experts, providers and advocates. After participating in a panel that offered a provider’s perspective on the need for mental health reform, it is clear to me that collaboration between all of these groups will be essential to achieving the goal of a more accessible, better functioning mental health care system.

Achieving this end is more important than ever. We are at a very important crossroads in terms of mental health care in this country. While there have been important recent gains in medical research and public awareness around mental health, ensuring patients suffering from mental health and substance use disorders are able to access the care that they sorely need has been a persistent challenge.

There are many barriers to care that can, and should, be addressed by legislation. The barriers to better care include fragmented delivery and reimbursement systems, limited funding for research, enduring stigma surrounding mental illness, among others. Addressing the critical shortage in the psychiatric workforce would go a long way toward improving access to care for patients suffering from mental disorders and substance use disorders in underserved communities. We also need to drastically improve enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Health Equity Act, as inconsistent compliance with parity laws has been a major barrier for patients and care providers alike.

Luckily, efforts to enact mental health reform in both the Senate and House contain provisions to address these issues, and others, such as increasing funding for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), providing support for innovative care models for treating serious mental illness, and establishing clinical leadership over how the federal government finances and manages mental health services.

Events like the Senate Mental Health Summit are great for raising awareness of the issues and fostering collaborations among those involved in advocating for and delivering mental health care, but the next step needs to come from the sponsors of these bills working with their legislative committees to move this bill toward passage. The APA is committed to ensuring that comprehensive mental health reform becomes a reality, and is engaged in lobbying both the House and Senate as they move toward committee votes on these bills. Meanwhile, I urge you to reach out to your representatives in Congress and urge them to support comprehensive mental health reform. If we work together, we can eliminate the shortfalls in our current mental health care system, and achieve better and lasting outcomes for our patients and their families.

What APA is Doing for You

This blog post is part of an occasional series highlighting how APA advocates on your behalf to support the profession of psychiatry and put our interests before key policymakers.

     

Post by Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D.

Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., is the President of APA. Read Dr. Oquendo's full biography.

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