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States Advance New Mental Health Initiatives As Congressional Action Remains Stalled

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"States Advance New Mental Health Initiatives As Congressional Action Remains Stalled"

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Less than two weeks before the one-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — which was perpetrated by a mentally ill man — Congress has failed to pass several bipartisan bills to increase mental health funding and expand community resources to address mental illness. In the wake of Congress’ inaction, at least 37 states have passed measures of their own.

Politico lists just some of the new policies being adopted by states. For instance, Nevada, Texas, and Utah have all passed legislation bolstering public schools’ capacity to identify children who may be at risk for a mental problem by instituting screenings, mandating staff to take courses on recognizing depression and other mental illnesses, and requiring school districts to conduct informational seminars with parents to talk about their children’s mental health. Minnesota officials green-lighted a new program where behavioral health specialists treat children — including the uninsured — right at their schools, allowing the doctors to work with teachers in the classroom and eliminating the need for parents to make the trek to find a mental health expert.

Identifying mental illness in childhood is especially important considering that half of all lifetime mental disorders usually set in by age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Between 2009 and 2012, states cut a total of almost $4.35 billion from their mental health budgets, according to a report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. Despite renewed calls from advocates and President Obama to reverse that trend after several high-profile mass shootings involving perpetrators with mental illness, Congress has failed to pass bipartisan bills such as the Excellence In Mental Health Act and the Mental Health In Schools Act. Those bills would extend generous federal funding for many of the same initiatives that states are currently pursuing.

Some health care providers are using the impending influx of millions of newly-insured Americans under the Affordable Care Act as an occasion to experiment with mental health models. For instance, pilot programs in Oregon and New Mexico aim to teach primary care physicians how to screen for common mental health issues and place mental health counselors in a primary care setting that’s easier for patients to access.

New rules issued by the Obama administration requiring all American insurance companies to cover mental health benefits in the same way they cover more traditional medical care is also expected to make mental health care affordable for millions of Americans for the first time.

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