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Statement by Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO, MHA, on Support for House and Senate Mental Health Reform Legislation

June 14, 2016

“On behalf of Mental Health America, I am pleased to announce our support for H.R. 2646 and S. 1945/2680. For the past two years, mental health reform has been front and center in this Congress. It has received a great deal of deliberation and debate. Legislative proposals have been advanced and amended to reflect the input of a wide variety of interested parties. It is time now to act.

"For more than a century, Mental Health America has remained steadfast in its advocacy for transitioning the public safety model for addressing mental health concerns to a public health model, for moving oversight for the care and support for people with mental illnesses from sheriffs and jails to health providers and community-based services, for investing in screening, early intervention and services for children instead of waiting for crises before acting, and for focusing on recovery.

"In these proposals, we now see the foundation being laid for that vision to become a reality.

"In their current form, they will strengthen the federal role in advancing mental health by adding a new Assistant Secretary and an Interagency Coordinating Council. They will preserve SAMHSA and its programs. They will add programs to advance screening and early intervention, especially for children to keep them in schools. They will promote both evidence-based initiatives and the kind of innovation we need to address mental health concerns before Stage 4. They will encourage the involvement of families in the provision of support for people with mental illnesses while maintaining the privacy of individuals. They will move us away from the public safety model that emphasizes custodial care services in jails to one that will promote community-based services and planning for a reduction in incarceration and homelessness and an increase in job training and supported employment. They will promote oversight of parity implementation. They will add, not subtract, funding for mental health services. They will help add more mental health providers to the mix, including people with lived experience who are an essential part of care and support teams that promote recovery.

"These are all elements of the kind of system of services and supports for which Mental Health America began its advocacy in 1913, and was first promised by Congress fifty years later in 1963. More than fifty more years have passed while we have waited for this dream to be realized, and literally millions of lives have been lost – to trauma, to suicide, and to chronic disease – to inaction.

"Muhammad Ali once said that it isn’t the mountains in the distance that wear us down, but ‘the pebble in our shoe.’ For too many years, advocates with competing messages and public officials with competing interests have been focused on the pebbles in their shoes. They’ve held fast to a particular intervention or a single, simple solution to a multilayered, complex problem. And they’ve worn themselves down.

"It is time to change that now. For the first time in a long time, these more comprehensive proposals will help us take those pebbles from our shoes and begin to climb that mountain ahead of us. It is time that we do so, together. And this year, not next.

"MHA commends all of the members of Congress who have worked so diligently on this issue, and especially commends Representatives Tim Murphy and Eddie Bernice Johnson and Senators Chris Murphy and Bill Cassidy for their perseverance in keeping the nation’s eyes on it.  We also commend Senators Alexander and Murray, and Representatives Upton, Pallone, Pitts, and Green, for focusing the attention of the committees of cognizance on mental health, and for their joint, positive, leadership efforts to date in building bipartisan support for reform. 

"We look forward to working with the many supportive members of leadership and the entire Congress in the weeks to come to bring these initiatives to passage.

"They may not be perfect or all that we or everyone has wanted.  We will continue our advocacy for other critical interventions that did not find their way into them.  But they represent a major step forward, and this is one that we all must take.” 

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