Improving mental health services

Treatment of mental illness is a great challenge in today’s society.

In fact, it has been for years.

On Oct. 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act to federally fund community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to the treatment of mental illness.

It was the last legislation President Kennedy signed into law.

“The 50th anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act gives us occasion to celebrate a vision for behavioral health that has been 50 years in the making,” said Karen Thekan, CEO, Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare in Kingsford.

“JFK encouraged a bold new approach to mental health. An approach that would keep people in their communities and encourage independence. He established a vision we still strive to meet today – a community that is focused on prevention, treatment, education and recovery,” Thekan said.

In the past 50 years, new medications, evidence base practices, peer support and other treatment options have dramatically expanded the ability to treat a range of conditions, Thekan said. And today, people with mental illness have hope – the hope for recovery in a community setting.

Yet, while we have seen great strides in the past 50 years, as JFK warned, “The problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won.”

We have yet to see the full potential of community-based care. Financing arrangements, systems of care and clinical training are often misaligned and mental illnesses continue to be the largest source of morbidity, just as they were in 1963.

In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the worldwide incidence of mental illness went up by 38 percent, according to a 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study.

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy said, “The new frontier is here, whether we seek it or not.”

He described it as one of “unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.”

In the new frontier, mental health and addictions treatment has parity with all other health care treatments.

The Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and addictions treatment to 62 million Americans. This will accelerate an already growing demand for behavioral health services, Thekan said.

Three bills before Congress would improve mental health and addictions into the new frontier:

– The Mental Health First Aid Act offers education and training to teachers, health workers, firefighters, police officers, emergency personnel and other community members. Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare has one of the few trainers for this in the Upper Peninsula.

– The Excellence in Mental Health Act creates Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers to better meet the needs of people currently being served, and those who will seek care as a result of coverage expansion and parity.

– The Behavioral Health IT Act provides financial incentives for the adoption and “meaningful use” of health information technology – a necessary building block for improved care and coordination amongst all health providers.

Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare looks forward to working with legislators to achieve the full promise of the Community Mental Health Act.

For more information about mental health services, call Northpointe at 774-0522 or 1-800-750-0522.

“Recovery is possible and treatment does work,” Thekan said.