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Most mental health funding is not targeted to those who need help the most and we must overhaul our system of care, Doris A. Fuller tells Washington Journal host Steven Scully on C-SPAN.

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The annual observance of Mental Health Month will not be cause for celebration as long as Americans with the most severe mental illnesses don’t receive the treatment they need to stay of out jails and prisons, off the streets and on the road to recovery.

“This May is the 66th observance of Mental Health Month, yet the consequences of untreated severe mental illness among the nation’s most ignored population have never been more apparent,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. Among the consequences: 356,000 people with mental illness behind bars, 200,000 living on the streets, increasing numbers of police shootings involving individuals with psychiatric disease and more.

One bright spot in the otherwise grim picture, Fuller said, is “The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) last December and co-sponsored by more than 70 members of both parties in Congress.

The most comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s mental health system in half a century, the legislation, if enacted, addresses a long list of inadequacies in our mental health system by:

•    Requiring states to authorize court-ordered treatment for qualifying individuals with severe mental illness as a condition of receiving mental health block grant funds. Many states require people with mental illness to be violent or to commit a crime before they can access treatment, according to our study “Mental Health Commitment Laws: A Survey of the States.

•    Requiring states to have assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws on their books in order to receive mental health block grant funds. Where implemented, assisted outpatient treatment laws have been shown to reduce episodes of violence, incarceration, homelessness and repeat hospitalization among individuals with severe mental illness.

•    Amending the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to allow family members greater access to the private health information of a loved one with mental illness when necessary to protect the health, safety or welfare of the patient or the safety of another.

•    Promoting jail diversion programs such as mental health courts and crisis intervention team (CIT) training for law enforcement. These programs have been consistently found to reduce the criminalization of mental illness, yet less than 40% of the US population lives in jurisdictions with mental health courts, and only 49% lives where police departments are using CIT, according to our study “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States.

“Access to treatment for acute or chronic psychiatric disease varies widely from state to state,” Fuller said. “Rep. Murphy’s bill would expand that access by lowering or removing some of the barriers that commonly prevent individuals from getting the care they need."

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