Mental Health Crisis Demands Sweeping Transformation

New National Survey Data Shows 67% Of Mental Health Consumers in The Prime of Their Lives are Unemployed: 55% Have an Annual Income of Less Than $10,000. Nation’s Grassroots, State and Federal Leaders Call for Unified Commitment for Immediate Change.

Jun 30 2003

Minneapolis, MN  - TRIAD, NAMI’s newly launched Treatment/Recovery Information and Advocacy Database, released a preliminary report on data from 50 states reflecting the condition of mental health services in America. The data was presented Sunday in response to a preview of President Bush’s "New Freedom" Commission’s report on mental health at NAMI’s annual convention. The full TRIAD survey will be released later this summer.

Charles Curie, administrator, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services, Michael Hogan, Ph.D., chair of the President’s New Freedom Commission, and Dr. Richard C. Birkel, executive director of NAMI, The Nation’s Voice on Mental Illness, made a joint commitment Sunday to seek an end to the pain, neglect and waste of American lives suffering under a broken mental healthcare system.

"It is an opportunity we don’t want to miss," said Curie, the Bush administration’s leading spokesperson on mental health services, referring to the sweeping transformation that the commission’s findings require. "It is clear, attempting to repair what is broken through patching and mending and stitching together is not on our agenda."

"Incremental reform of the mental health system is no longer viable," Hogan agreed, "It must be transformed. We need one empowered plan," he said reiterating Curie’s stated goal of "a vision for a mental health field united."

"How are we going to confront the crisis in our communities? Together— with full and clear voice— with courage and dignity and determination," said Birkel.

Based on national consumer and family survey data from TRIAD, NAMI responded to the Commission report’s preview. "Our survey shows that consumers are trapped in poverty, unemployment and— unable to get effective services— a continuing cycle of crisis, hospitalization and involvement with police," said Birkel.

Six NAMI respondents told gripping personal stories to illustrate their continuing struggles with injustices and resultant tragedies reflected in the TRIAD data and Commission findings.

TRIAD reported 67% of consumers in the prime of their lives are unemployed: 55% had an annual income of less than $10,000. Randy, who has a serious mental illness said he got his first paycheck in 14 years last week, but now runs the risk of losing the health insurance which permits him to live in newly achieved recovery.

Cheryl shared, not only her own painful, crisis-driven fight for treatment in rural America, but also that of her children. "There was nothing a psychiatrist could do 100 miles away and no way to get a child in crisis to them safely. My husband and I would sleep with a troubled child between us to insure that they would not harm themselves during the night—and try to get help the next day. In Nebraska, if you take a child to the emergency room that is in crisis, they are taken from your family and your chances of ever getting them back again is very small. A child with a genetic disorder should not be punished in this way, " she said.

The TRIAD data shows that few consumers receive evidence-based, best practice treatment, yet 40 to 48 percent have been in crisis services and/or required hospitalization in the last year. Forty-three percent of the consumers had been arrested or detained by the police at some time in their lives.

"We cannot wait another day, another year, another decade for real progress to begin. We do not want another presidential commission, surgeon general’s report, state audit, or newspaper expose telling us what we know all too well," said Birkel. "Let today mark a turning point. Let today begin the transformation of a broken system of care into one that provides recovery-oriented, community-based treatment and services that research has shown work."

TRIAD will continue to monitor consumer and family outcomes and the investments, policies and programs that exist in each state, according to Birkel. "Forty billion dollars are spent on mental health care in this country and only 14 million approximately to measure the outcomes. I find that unacceptable. We must monitor what is happening to know if there is progress."