Bipolar disorder affects 2.6% of the United States population. One in every 100 people suffers from Schizophrenia. One in four people around the globe will be affected by some kind of neurological disorder or mental health condition at some point in their lives.
If severe mental illness manifests before a child is 18, parents can insist on care. On the other hand, around that time is when more serious types of mental illness tend to become obvious, and denial is frequently a symptom. Families of patients over 18 can be shut out of major treatment decisions and might not even be told the diagnosis.
This week, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646) made it out of the House Health Subcommittee markup with bipartisan approval.
So far, key provisions that remain in the bill include:
- An increase in the number of psychiatric inpatient beds;
- Allowing mental health professionals to share key diagnostic criteria and treatment information with caregivers or parents of patients who suffer from severe mental illness;
- Money to localities and states to implement evidence-based, lifesaving treatment programs for individuals who are too sick to maintain treatment on their own; and
- Creation of an Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders to coordinate attempts and raise the importance mental health and severe mental illness in the federal government
The Act still needs approval from the full House of Representatives, the Senate, the Energy and Commerce Committee and President Barack Obama. The journey is not yet over.
Patients denied effective mental health care often end up in jail or homeless. Others roam the streets unaware of the extent of their illness. What must be done now, and should have been done in the past, is to learn from the past and to provide exceptional facilities, services and monitoring.
How the Act is implemented will make a huge difference in whether the rights of patients are sufficiently protected.
We should listen to the patients and their families, and seek second and third opinions in order to protect patients’ rights. Candidates for high public office should be questioned. Are they up-to-date on serious mental health issues? Do they have a strategy for fixing an inadequate mental health system? Or are they dodging the problem?