Weekly Columns

One in five adults in this country suffers from a mental illness. That means we all likely know someone struggling with mental illness. Often times, we never know what they are going through. The stigma of mental illness is still strong enough to keep many from seeking help. We have to change that. 

President Trump has declared this month to be National Mental Health Awareness Month in an effort to underscore the impact mental illness has on millions of American families, encourage Americans suffering from mental illness to seek help and, most importantly, implore policymakers to increase access to care and treatment for those in need.

The term mental illness encompasses a wide-range of disorders, the most common of which in adults are anxiety and mood disorders. Nearly ten million Americans suffer from a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Yet approximately 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of adolescents with mental illness do not get the treatment or other services they need. 

Our local law enforcement officials can attest to the problems caused when those suffering from serious mental illness do not receive the care and treatment they need. Too often these individuals end up on the streets or in our county jails.

The Arkansas General Assembly and Governor Asa Hutchinson are taking steps to help. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a new law to create three regional Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers and improve training for law enforcement officers who respond to incidents involving someone dealing with mental illness. The facilities established by the law will provide evaluation and treatment of those suspected by law enforcement officers to be in need of mental health treatment. This is a much better option to detention in the county jail as those in need of help will be able to receive it at these facilities.

Congress is acting as well. Late last year, then-President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. This law is an expansive effort to address some of the most critical medical issues facing our nation.

The 21st Century Cures Act includes important measures that focus on mental health. The law ensures that federal dollars support states’ efforts to provide quality mental health care for individuals suffering from mental illness. It improves coordination and accountability between federal agencies and departments that provide grants and services for individuals with mental illness. The law also promotes the use of the most up-to-date, evidence-based approaches for treating mental illness and requires mental health agency leadership to include professionals who have practical experience. 

Congress remains committed to ensuring that we build off the momentum of this landmark law. The 21st Century Cures law is fully funded in the agreement Congress just passed to keep the government operating through the remainder of the current fiscal year. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that goal is reached in future spending bills as well.

The economic burden of mental illness in the U.S. comes with a hefty price tag in the hundreds of billions. But in reality, no price can be put on the suffering of our friends, family members and neighbors in need. Let us use Mental Health Awareness Month as a time to better understand mental illness and how we can help those in need of treatment and care.