June 07, 2022
WASHINGTON – At the weekly Republican leadership press conference today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) discussed the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, and the importance of expanding access to mental health care. Blunt spoke about The Excellence in Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Act, a bipartisan bill he led with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) to change how mental health care is treated in the U.S.
Signed into law in 2014, the Excellence in Mental Health Act created a pilot program to increase access to mental health services and strengthen the quality of care for those living with mental and behavioral health issues. Blunt and Stabenow recently authored an op-ed making the case for the Excellence program to be expanded nationwide.
Following is a Transcript:
“A few days ago, in Uvalde, Texas, 19 elementary school kids are killed and two of their teachers are killed, and all of those families, and, in a significant way, that community, has changed forever. Of course, that brings the topic of the weapons used, but also brings the topic of mental health to part of this discussion.
“I want to say a couple of things about that. One is, the last day of October 2013, Senator Stabenow and I had a piece of mental health legislation, we went to the Senate floor, and we talked about the last bill that President Kennedy had signed 50 years earlier, 50 years before that date, and it was the Community Mental Health Act.
“We went through the Community Mental Health Act and when we did that, it was obvious that that act was designed to close a lot of facilities that probably needed to be closed. But it was also designed to create a lot of alternatives that never quite got completed. And so for most of that 50 years, the local police and the emergency room have become the de facto mental health system for the country.
“That's beginning to change, but it can't change as quickly as we should want it to change. You know, we have 41 states now that are part of a program that we developed in legislation we were also talking about that day. Ten states fully in the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic program, making a difference in those states, and will make a difference to people who are thinking about harming themselves or others.
“I think we ought to look at that as one of the things we figure out how to take more advantage of. But, even more importantly than that, I'd want to say that everybody with a mental health problem is not dangerous. In fact, people with a mental health problem are more likely to be the victim of a crime than they are the perpetrators of a crime. And, while we have this important discussion about mental health, we don't want to do anything as a society that would discourage people from stepping forward, and saying, ‘I have a mental health problem, and I need help.’
“The National Institutes of Health says one in five adult Americans has a diagnosable, and almost always treatable, behavioral health issue. We can't give one in five adult Americans any reason in the world, or all the kids that have mental health challenges after two years of COVID and isolation from school, we can't create an environment where any of them are hesitant to step forward because they see themselves as becoming part of a class that's seen as dangerous.
“But that doesn't mean that mental health isn't also an important part of what we need to do to deal with people who are troubled. And when you deal with people, almost all of these cases involve not just somebody who's decided to do a terrible act involving the lives of other people, but it's probably also almost always purposely decided that this is a way for them to end their own life. And so, whether it's suicide or homicide, we need to be stepping in there. But we also need to have a mental health system that people aren't afraid to be part of, and the balance of that in this discussion, I think is really an important balance to be sure we try and achieve.”