On May 25, 2000 Senators Domenici and Kennedy introduced S.2639 Mental Health Early Intervention, Treatment and Prevention Act of 2000 (S. 2639), and the companion bill H.R. 5091 was introduced in the House by Representative Ted Strickland (D-OH) on July 27. This bipartisan legislation is intended to increase access to mental illness treatment services and provide new resources for programs that emphasize evidence-based treatment approaches, screening and diagnosis, education, and services for persons in the criminal justice system. It is based in large part on findings in the 1999 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health and contains numerous provisions designed to expand the capacity of states and communities to invest in treatment interventions that prevent homelessness, violence and criminalization.
Special Focus on Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders and Criminalization
Both S. 2639 and H.R. 5091 contain a number of initiatives that NAMI has been advocating for years including mental health courts and jail diversion programs, mobile crisis teams, and most importantly, integrated treatment for co-occurring mental and addictive disorders. In NAMI's view, the evidence is clear -- only integrated treatment succeeds for persons with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. Parallel or sequential programs do not work. Unfortunately, in 1999 the Senate, as part of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reauthorization (S. 976), failed to give states the discretion to blend mental health and substance abuse block grant funds to support integrated programs. Congressional emphasis on integrated treatment is urgently needed, and this legislation is an important step in the right direction.
In the United States, 25-40% of individuals with a mental illness come into contact with the criminal justice system each year. 16% of individuals incarcerated in state and local jails suffer from a mental illness. About 30,000 Americans, including 2,000 children and adolescents, commit suicide each year. S. 2639 seeks to prevent the often-tragic results of mental illness, such as acts of violence and suicide, before they occur. It provides a series of programs to raise awareness about mental illness; to increase resources for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness; and to increase resources to enable the criminal justice system to respond more effectively to persons with mental illness.
Other key provisions in S. 2639 and H.R. 5091 are:
NAMI advocates are urged to contact their senators and urge them to support this bipartisan effort to improve access to treatment and prevent the tragic consequences of state and local public mental health systems to reach those most in need of treatment (e.g., suicide, violence, criminalization and homelessness). Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor S. 2639 and H.R. 5091. All Senate offices can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress."
To find out if your senators are co-sponsors of S.2639, please visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d106:SN02274:@@@P.