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President Obama's Plan to Address Our Nation's Urgent Mental Health Needs

02/12/2015 03:39 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015
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President Obama's recently proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget provides the nation with an unprecedented opportunity to address America's urgent behavioral health needs. About 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental illness every year, yet many struggle to access treatment and services. The FY 2016 Budget proposes improvements to the mental health system by expanding treatment for serious mental illness (SMI) and by reaching people in crisis when they need help the most.

Many of the president's proposals in this area are focused within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is a relatively small federal agency, but has a large effect in reducing the impact of mental illnesses and substance abuse within our nation's communities. Three-quarters of SAMHSA's mental health budget is dedicated to serving people with SMI. SAMHSA's Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, Children's Mental Health Initiative, and Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration programs provide medical treatment and recovery support services to millions of Americans with the most serious needs. SAMHSA's leadership, including coordination with other federal departments, is focused on enhancing our ability to help ensure that people with these disorders receive vital supports for treatment and recovery.

SAMHSA is also working with the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health to provide early treatment -- including medical care -- to those individuals experiencing the early stages of SMI. In fact, SAMHSA's efforts address the vast spectrum of America's behavioral healthcare needs including suicide prevention services, evidence-based programs for helping people experiencing homelessness, and helping people dealing with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders get on the road to recovery. The budget also continues support for the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program, a critical partnership with states that helps protect the rights of people with SMI against neglect and abuse and ensures that they receive appropriate and effective treatment and services.

These efforts are helping but, there is no question that more is needed.

The president's proposed budget, if funded by Congress, would enable SAMHSA to provide expanded services to help prevent and treat mental illness. These expanded services and programs include:

  • Expanding the Mental Health Workforce: The 2016 budget requests 77.7 million for workforce initiatives that includes 10 million for a new program to develop paraprofessional training for peer professionals working with people with mental and substance disorders. Also included within this total is a proposed 21 million increase for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Grant Program to expand the behavioral health workforce. This program is carried out by both SAMHSA and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
  • Meeting the Needs of Children and Youth: The president's "Now Is The Time Initiative" is funded at 151 Million within SAMHSA, an increase of 35 million above FY 2015. The program is aimed at preventing youth violence by providing a wide range of mental health services and support, including within schools, directed toward children and youth.
  • Responding to Tribal Mental Health Needs: SAMHSA proposed 30 million, an increase of 25 million above FY 2015, to promote mental health and resiliency among Native youth and their families.
  • Improving Crisis Response: This new 10 million program would strengthen crisis systems to prevent and de-escalate mental health and addiction crises. It would also help mitigate the demand for inpatient beds for those with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders by coordinating effective crisis response with ongoing outpatient services and supports.
  • Supporting Veterans' Mental Health: This program would receive an additional 4 million to provide Mental Health First Aid training to an additional 55,000 veterans, military service members and their families on how to recognize when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and respond effectively.
In addition to these and other expanded programs, SAMHSA will continue to play its part in supporting the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act -- resulting in the largest expansion of mental health care insurance coverage in a generation, especially for Americans with serious mental illnesses.

The president has taken important steps to increase the capacity of the mental health system in the U.S. With the support of Congress, SAMHSA can build on its leadership and success to help all Americans -- including those with SMI -- lead healthy, full, and productive lives in their communities.

To learn more about SAMHSA's efforts on the prevention, treatment and recovery of mental illness, please go to www.samhsa.gov.

Pamela S. Hyde, JD, is the Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration