This was a good week in the United States for mental health, addictions and social justice. On Feb. 3, 2015, The Kennedy Forum issued its groundbreaking announcement of the launch of a new research center. A center dedicated to a new corps of public health leaders, who will advance research and best practices, and inform policy makers of the critical need to invest in behavioral health research, treatment which will promote the following four core areas: quality, innovation, equity and integration. As stated by Dr. Vacherie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, "Our mandate is clear, and stakes for millions of Americans are too big to ignore." The center will focus on facilitating the full implementation of the 2008 parity law, bringing public and private sectors together to eliminate issues of stigma and work to strengthen policies which promote and protect consumer rights to parity in accessing behavioral health care treatment.
In support of the launch of the new Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research, the Kennedy Forum released research on how Americans view the current state of mental health and addictions in America. According to its public opinion poll, "71 percent of Americans call for significant or radical changes in the way mental health and addiction are treated." The new center will bring together the forces of two legendary political and public health figures, former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, director of The Kennedy Forum, and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. As stated by Dr. Satcher, director of the Morehouse School of Medicine, Satcher Health Leadership Institute, Atlanta, Georgia: "Fifteen years ago, I released the first-ever report to the nation on mental health, and we found that mental health conditions affect far more people than we had once thought." The new center is sited at Morehouse School of Medicine and in my view represents a hopeful new era in mental health and addictions in America.
As pioneer of the first Mental Health Court and former member of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, I can say therapeutic courts and related problem solving criminal justice strategies are critically necessary as they provide smart justice, reduce recidivism, promote public safety, and have saved countless lives. Yet these back door criminal justice innovations were never intended to problem solve and/or fix a broken mental health care delivery system which must be reformed, as mental health is essential to overall health.
The new public opinion poll released by the Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research echoes the sentiment of individuals and families who have suffered immeasurably as a result of historic governmental policy failures. Plagued by a lack of clear vision and public heath leadership, the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health delivered an interim report to the president, which sounded the alarm, as it described a national mental health care system in shambles. Regrettably, the promise of a transformed nation in terms of the state of mental health care in America remains unfulfilled.
I recall reading the supplemental report authored by Dr. Satcher, then U.S. Surgeon General on Culture, Race and Ethnicity, where he states: "Because State and local governments have primary oversight of public mental health spending, they have a clear and important role in assuring equal access to high quality mental health services for racial and ethnic minorities. Just as important, we need to redouble our efforts to support communities, especially consumers, families and community leaders, in welcoming and demanding effective treatment for all."
With that said, the state of mental health and addictions in America is in need of urgent care and a new era begins. For more information, visit: www.msm.edu.