Stop Talking and Start Acting on Mental Health

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds reacts to his loss in the Virginia governor's race ag
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds reacts to his loss in the Virginia governor's race against Republican Bob McDonnell, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, at his election results event in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

I just finished watching the 60 Minutes and CNN interviews of Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-VA) and the CNN interview of Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA). All the right questions were asked and Mr. Deeds and Mr. Murphy were excellent in articulating the need for reform in our mental health care system. What these interviews made glaringly clear is how broken our system really is.

There are so many issues that need to be addressed, such as very limited treatment options, a shortage of mental health professionals, the severely limited number of hospital beds, underfunded outpatient programs, the restrictive legal standards, as well as, jail being the largest provider of mental health services. Even as a mental health attorney who works with individuals, families and mental health professionals and institutions everyday, I was brought to tears. I share the heartbreak, frustration and, ultimately, disbelief that this is still being discussed and still not moving forward with any concrete actions.

We are in a crisis and continue to hear the laundry list of system-wide problems every single day. But, what is it going to take? Clearly it is not enough for mothers, politicians, advocates, mental health professionals, families and the individuals themselves to put out the loud cry. There continues to be deaf ears on the receiving end. We need legislation, we need programs, we need funding and we need action.

My prior blog post talked about the mental health system working in silos. Those silos continue. With real change, we can band together and move forward. Let's get started finally! Let's pass legislation to modify the restrictive laws that keep loved ones from intervening and getting help for their children, siblings, parents, spouses and others. A good start is moving funding from programs and services that do little to those that are vetted and deemed appropriate. By encouraging people to be more proactive and recognize the need for preventive care, we could avoid overcrowding our already strained system.

Another big step is to move the conversation from gun control to mental health services. There's no doubt that gun control is important, but mental health is always pushed to the side in the aftermath of recent tragedies. The stigma that surrounds these tragedies is often fed by misinformation and misunderstanding. We certainly don't need to increase the stigma around mental health issues and can dissipate much of the inaccuracies with mental illness with education and training in our communities. But, we need to stop talking and start acting. If this isn't the moment in time, in all that we have seen over these past several years, it is difficult to fathom when is.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the congressman interviewed on mental health care reform as Patrick Murphy (D-FL). The congressman interviewed was Tim Murphy (R-PA). The post has been updated to correct this.