Mental Health Community Advances Legislative Agenda In Aftermath Of Newtown Tragedy

Widespread budget cuts to state mental health services during the Great Recession have left that area of the health care sector with significant gaps. But that may be poised to change, as the mental health community is gearing up to lobby the federal government for their legislative agenda in the aftermath of last week’s tragic shooting in Newtown, CT.

As the Hill reports, the public is currently pushing for a renewed focus on mental health treatment. According to Gallup, a full 84 percent of Americans believe that increasing government spending on mental health services would be “very” or “somewhat” effective in helping prevent future mass shootings. And advocates are hoping that the renewed attention on the need for mental health care may encourage lawmakers to make the issue more of a priority going forward:

Advocates told The Hill that they plan to emphasize the role of Medicaid in paying for mental-health services and urge Congress not to cut the program in an agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” […]

Kate Mattias of the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said she hopes lawmakers can adjust their thinking to integrate mental health into larger healthcare discussions.

“Whenever there is a conversation about health, mental health needs to be part of that conversation,” she said.

“It’s thought of differently, but we need to talk about it broadly, just like we talk about lowering diabetes or cardiovascular issues.”

Mental health advocates are advocating primarily for strengthening community-based mental health services across the country, as well as improving the early diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill minors. A coalition of mental health groups plan on crafting a legislative proposal that would ask lawmakers to double the United States’ capacity to provide mental health services. According to a 2011 Kaiser Foundation report, more than 60 percent of adults and 70 percent of children with mental illnesses don’t receive the health services they need.


Some politicians are already taking initiative by proposing new legislation to increase mental health services in schools and colleges. And earlier this week, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) — whose state mourned its own mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater this past summer — asked state lawmakers to dedicate over $18 million to expanding mental health services in Colorado.

On Wednesday, when President Obama announced the creation of a new White House task force to address the root causes of gun violence, he also cited mental health as a top priority. “We’re going to need to make access to mental healthcare at least as easy as access to a gun,” Obama said.