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DJ Jaffe

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Supercommittee: Eliminate SAMHSA

Posted: 09/21/11 01:59 PM ET

An op-ed on SAMHSA I wrote in the Washington Times begins:

Presidents Ford and Reagan and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were all attacked by people with untreated serious mental illness. In spite of the risk to public safety and homeland security posed by letting some people with serious mental illness go untreated, the federal agency charged with helping them is instead working to see they don't get the treatments they need. That's one reason (President Obama's) newly formed debt-reduction supercommittee should eliminate the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The other is money: $3 billion annually.

I point out that SAMHSA does not do what the enacting legislation requires: help people with serious mental illness.

  1. SAMHSA makes it harder for people with mental illness to get treatment. SAMHSA provides massive funding to groups that believe if an individual -- because he is psychotic -- does not recognize their need for treatment, that person should not be allowed into treatment until after they become danger to self or others. Rather than prevent violence, they want to require it.
  2. SAMHSA has failed to exercise oversight over the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals program. This program funds public interest law firms that are supposed to help people with mental illness get treatment. Instead, many of these law firms have decided to do the opposite: prevent people from mental illness from receiving treatment. In Maine, mentally ill William Bruce killed his mother with a hatchet after SAMHSA-funded PAMII lawyers taught him how to avoid involuntary treatment.
  3. SAMHSA has failed to exercise oversight over the block grant program. SAMHSA sends $2 billion to the states in the form of block grants. But SAMHSA allows the funds to be diverted to programs that don't have anything to do with mental illness.
  4. SAMHSA wastes money. SAMHSA uses its funds to create, publish and distribute children's books that have nothing to do with mental illness like A Day in the Park, brochures on Making and Keeping Friends and Building Self-esteem. They create, manufacture and market multicolor stickers kids can wear saying, "I am cool" and "I listen well." Looking for online games for your kids to play? SAMHSA creates those too.

As a result of SAMHSA refusing to focus on their mission, 5,000 people with serious mental illness suicide, 1,000 commit homicides, 175,000 mentally ill are homeless, 218,000 mentally ill are incarcerated. Treating people with serious mental illness would dramatically improve their lives.

Some will argue that the op-ed equated mental illness with attacks on presidents and suggested a nexus between violence, homeland security, and mental illness that doesn't exist. That is not an accurate description.

  1. There is no connection between mental illness and violence.
  2. There is no connection between serious mental illness and violence.
  3. There is a connection between violence and untreated serious mental illness (especially among those who have a past history of violence associated with going off treatment). That is the population this article talks about... a population that needs our help.

Read the op-ed calling for elimination of SAMHSA

 
 
 

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