Despite some progress at the state and federal levels in the year since the Navy Yard mass killing left 12 dead and 3 wounded, much more change is needed if the nation is to reduce the impacts of untreated severe mental illness on its families and communities.
"There is no question the cascade of mass tragedy in recent years has motivated policy makers to propose and, in some cases, enact critical reforms that will increase treatment access for the individuals with untreated mental illness who are most at risk for violence and other consequences of not receiving care," said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. "At the same time, there has been too much talk and not enough action to create the mental health safety net we need to reduce tragedy, including the countless everyday tragedies that don't make headlines but routinely devastate lives and communities."
Fuller cited Rep. Tim Murphy’s "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act
" (HR 3717) as a roadmap to the kinds of reform still needed. "The Murphy bill lays out the most meaningful and comprehensive improvements to the treatment system proposed in half a century, designed specifically to help those with the most severe psychiatric diseases," said Fuller. “But after attracting widespread support from members of both parties, law enforcement, the medical community and families grappling with mental illness, the bill’s momentum has been slowed by partisan crossfire.”
A handful of states have improved their laws to help prevent tragedies related to untreated severe mental illness in the year since Navy Yard, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. Most notably:
- Virginia enacted critical reforms to its emergency hospitalization procedures this year, shepherded by state Senator Creigh Deeds, who was stabbed by his mentally ill son Gus on the morning after the 24-year-old was released from an emergency room because the hospital failed to find a psychiatric bed for him. Gus Deeds committed suicide after attacking his father.
- California - which this May experienced its own mass killing in Isla Vista – has undergone a sea change in 2014. Three of the state's largest counties (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange) have recently authorized the use of court-ordered “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT) for qualifying at-risk people with histories of treatment non-adherence.
"At the outset of 2014, only 60,000 Californians lived in counties where AOT was available to people who are most at risk for hospitalization, incarceration, homelessness or other consequences of untreated severe mental illness," Fuller said. "Today, more than 14 million live in counties that have authorized court-ordered outpatient treatment."
Despite these and similar steps to increase treatment access in Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and elsewhere, Fuller said mental illness treatment reform efforts treatment too often face misguided and misinformed opposition. Too many families seeking care for loved ones are still told that nothing can be done until they hurt themselves or someone else.
"There has been progress since the Navy Yard shooting and other recent tragedies, but our treatment laws are too often still outdated and ineffective. More can and must be done."