June 03, 2022
When our nation closed asylums — starting in the mid-1960s but culminating during the Reagan administration — people with mental illness were supposed to integrate into their communities while they were cared for in community mental health clinics; that didn’t happen.
Instead, the mentally ill increasingly have ended up in jails, prisons or on the streets homeless.
The original drive toward deinstitutionalizing mental health care was based on a sound concept: comprehensive mental health care provided in clinics at the community level that offer treatment comparable with physical health care.
It was thought that the increasing availability of medicines to treat various psychiatric disorders would enable the integration of patients into their communities while they accessed care provided at outpatient clinics. Funding for those clinics and for that care has gone begging for years.
The funding that has been provided has frequently been through grants. But a grant isn’t a stable ongoing source of funding. It might get things started, but grants run out, leaving providers scrambling for funds. Sen. Roy Blunt has been working to solve mental health care challenges for years, and his current efforts look to make the community model function much better than it has so far.
Blunt and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., addressed their bipartisan efforts in a USA Today opinion piece recently. Their efforts under President Joe Biden’s proposed budget could expand a program of fully funded Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to every state that wants to participate. The clinics have been operating with measurable success as a test case in 10 states.
The Department of Health and Human Services reported that those who received care at the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics had 63.2% fewer emergency department visits for behavioral health issues, had a 40.7% decrease in homelessness and spent 60.3% less time in correctional facilities.
About 20 percent of all adults in the U.S. and Missouri experience a diagnosable mental health illness each year; about half of us will experience a mental health disorder during our lifetimes, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Coalition for Behavioral Healthcare.
Mental health care isn’t an issue that should be subject to partisan bickering. Mental illness is often cited as a root cause for societal ills — for example, gun violence — and those with mental illness frequently end up jailed or homeless instead of receiving needed help. Failing to provide needed care costs us all.
In their op-ed, Blunt and Stabenow said that the clinics are supported by law enforcement groups across the nation. They have introduced legislation to expand and make the program permanent. These clinics are one way to better address the nation’s mental health needs.
As Blunt and Stabenow said, “This is an important moment to come together and finally treat health care above the neck the same as health care below the neck.”