Even as the debate over gun control captures the spotlight in discussions over the response to last month’s massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., mental health advocates also are working hard to press for their reforms, as well.
Michael Fitzpatrick , executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) met Wednesday with Vice President Biden’s task force on gun control, along with other leaders of the mental health community, urging action to strengthen and expand mental health care services. Biden has been leading the administration’s efforts to fashion a response to the Newtown shooting, the victims of which mostly were young children.
NAMI calls itself the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder presided over the meeting.
“The meeting was not about guns,” Fitzpatrick says. “It was a listening session about fundamental mental health care services. President Obama’s leadership and Congressional action are needed to do what’s right.”
“We need the President to step forward and engage in a national dialogue on mental illness and the mental health care system.”
NAMI emphasized four points in the meeting:
- We must invest upstream rather than downstream in the mental health system by developing early identification and intervention strategies and access to treatment and support. Too many families wait years to get the treatment they need. The current system is impossible for many to navigate.
- Change happens through communities. We must provide training to school personnel, law enforcement, families and others in communities at every level on how to identify and respond to youth and adults experiencing mental health crises.
- Many of our nation’s schools are not addressing the needs of children who struggle with mental health conditions. We need to implement and coordinate school-based mental health services and supports. With them, many of these children can stay in school and have promising futures.
- Besides the stigma that surrounds mental illness the other major deterrent to people seeking help when they need it is lack of health insurance coverage. We must fully implement key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including mental health and addictions parity requirements and efforts to increase a qualified mental health workforce.
Six days after the Newtown tragedy, on Dec. 20, 2012, NAMI outlined its recommendations in greater detail in letters sent to both Obama and Biden.
“The Task Force’s recommendation must include mental health care,” Fitzpatrick says. “No one solution can eliminate violence in America, but saving lives includes saving the lives of individuals and family members who struggle with mental illness every day.”
“Treatment works—if a person can get it.”
“The nation’s common concern must be to prevent tragedies before they happen, no matter who is involved.”
“We must have a national dialogue that builds systems of care that provide treatment and support to people who need it, when they need it.”