Mental Health Report: Good News, Bad News in State Mental Health Legislation Passed in 2015; NAMI Applauds Minnesota, New York and Virginia as Reform Leaders; Congress Slow to Act

Dec 08 2015

Arlington, Va.—The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released its third annual survey of state mental health care legislation. The 2015 report comes shortly before the third anniversary of the Newtown school tragedy (Dec. 14), which raised public demand for mental health care reform.

  • Only 23 states were willing to increase mental health spending in 2015, compared to 36 states in 2013 and 29 in 2014.
  • For the second year in a row, Minnesota and Virginia stand out as leaders for reform. New York also invested significantly in 2015 to strengthen its public mental health system.
  • The District of Columbia increased funding in 2013 and 2014, but decreased in 2015. Illinois and Pennsylvania still have not passed their overall budgets.
  • Arizona, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia and Washington State passed the five top bills of the year, providing priority models for other states.

“The good news is that efforts to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness have continued in 2015,” said NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti. “Some states have enacted specific reforms that can serve as models for others. And Congress has slowly begun to move forward now with mental health reform legislation.”

“The bad news is that fewer states are strengthening investment in mental health care and Congress has only recently started to act after having been largely absent for two years,” Giliberti said. “Increased focus by Congress will be needed to get final, comprehensive legislation.”

The report is available at www.nami.org/statereport. Appendix One provides a table showing the basic budget trend for each state from 2013 to 2015.

  • Only 11 states have increased investment in mental health care every year in 2013-2015:  Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington.
  • Three states cut mental health spending every year during the same period:  Alaska, North Carolina and Wyoming.
  • Warning bells have sounded in four states where, after two years of increase, cuts occurred during the 2015 legislative sessions:  Arizona, Iowa, Kansas and Ohio.  D.C. is hearing them as well.

The report’s budget section covers basic trends of increase, maintenance or decrease. Actual dollar amounts, ratios or comparisons are not available because of the difficulty in collecting data across all states. Each state’s budget status is based on information from the websites of state mental health agencies, news media reports and reports from NAMI advocates.

“Too much of the public dialogue about mental health over the past three years has been framed relative to violence,” Giliberti continued. “The Newtown tragedy and other events undeniably have helped to fuel public demand for mental health care reform.  At the same time, studies clearly show that the vast majority of individuals living with mental illness are not violent.”

“Tragedies are happening every day. They include people living with mental illness who end up in emergency rooms, jail or living homeless on the street. They include young people whose symptoms aren't recognized early enough to avoid the worst outcomes. They include deaths by suicide.

The report surveys legislation topically. Under each topic, gold stars mark specific measures that NAMI considers especially notable and that can serve as models for other states.

Legislation considered ill-informed or discriminatory is marked with a red flag.  Gold stars and red flags apply only to specific legislation. They do not reflect a rating of any state’s overall mental health care system.

  • Thirty-five states adopted one or more measures in 2015 that received gold stars. Minnesota, New York and Virginia stand out as the year’s leaders; a distinction that Minnesota and Virginia have earned for the second year in a row. Fourteen states received red flags.
  • NAMI has identified five top bills passed in 2015 as priority models for other states:
  • Arizona (HB 2488)--Housing
  • Minnesota (SF 1458)--First Episode Psychosis program
  • Utah (HB 348)--Criminal Justice and Mental Health)
  • Virginia (HB 2118) -- Psychiatric Inpatient Beds
  • Washington State (SB 5175)--Telehealth 

The report also applauds legislation in areas that include Medicaid, insurance parity, workforce capacity, school-based mental health and suicide prevention. 

About NAMI

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a non-partisan organization with 1100 state and local affiliates, dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.

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