Press Releases

Nation's Voice On Mental Illness Unveils Model State Legislation For New National Campaign

"Mental Illness Recovery: A Reality Within Our Grasp"

Jul 01 1999

Chicago, IL - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the nation's largest grassroots advocacy organization for persons with severe mental illnesses and their families, today unveiled model legislation at its national convention aimed at establishing "a baseline of care" in the nation's mental health system and replicating effective programs shown to be critical to recovery.

NAMI's "Omnibus Mental Illness Recovery Act (OMIRA)" comes less than a month after the White House Conference on Mental Health, which reflected much of NAMI's agenda at the federal level. Today, however, NAMI took aim squarely at state governments.

"The greatest tragedy of mental illness in this country is that we already have the knowledge to put things right," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "Individuals with biological brain disorders have a real chance to reclaim full, productive lives, but only if they have access to the treatments, services and programs that are vital to recovery."

NAMI's OMIRA legislation is designed for introduction in state legislatures either as a single package or as separate initiatives, depending on the circumstances in each state. Some states already may have enacted some sections that other states may need to replicate in whole or in part.

OMIRA Consists Of Eight Critical Components:

  • Consumer and family participation in mental illness services planning;
  • Equitable healthcare coverage (parity);
  • Access to newer medications;
  • Assertive community treatment, including the evidence-based PACT model;
  • Work incentives;
  • Reductions in life-threatening and harmful actions (restraints);
  • Reduction in the criminalization of persons with severe mental illness; and
  • Access to safe, affordable housing with appropriate community-based services.

"President Bill Clinton recently demonstrated leadership on mental health issues at the federal level. We hope now that every governor and state legislator will do so as well," Flynn said. "We want every state to join in a broad, bipartisan effort to reform America's mental health system--a system in crisis--by building on the most effective standards and programs."

Flynn outlined the cost to society if mental illness recovery is not embraced as a common goal:

  • The price tag for direct treatment costs, including hospitalizations and medications, is $67 billion annually.
  • Lost productivity costs another $63 billion, with an additional $12 billion lost as a result of premature deaths, including suicide.
  • Incarceration of more than 250,000 persons with severe mental illnesses in prisons and jails costs an additional $6 billion.

Under the current mental health system, Flynn also said, "treatment is too often denied. People end up dependent, destitute or dead."

  • Nearly 90 percent of all persons who commit suicide suffer from a treatable mental illness.
  • Fewer than half of persons with schizophrenia---one of the most disabling mental illnesses---receive adequate care.
  • Between 85 percent and 95 percent of persons with treatable severe and persistent mental illnesses are unemployed.
  • Not a single housing market area in the United States exists where a person with mental illness receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can afford to rent a modest efficiency apartment.
  • One-third of the nation's homeless persons has a treatable severe mental illness.
  • More than 10 percent of the nation's jail and prison population suffer a severe mental illness.

Ironically, the success rate for treating severe mental illness-once access is secured-is relatively very high: 80 percent for bipolar disorder; 65 percent for major depression; and 60 percent for schizophrenia, compared to 45 percent for heart disease.

"Recovery won't come from action at just the federal level," Flynn said. "Every state and every community must do its part. That's what OMIRA is about, and that's the message everyone at NAMI's convention will be taking home with them."