By: Hannah Heitz
President Obama signed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Bill into law on December 14, 2016. The law will provide focused improvements in mental health and substance use disorder care across the US that will result in improved health, as well as save costs. While the bill has faced criticism that it is not extreme enough, it is a step forward for mental health care. After changes that removed highly controversial policies, such as assisted outpatient treatment, the bill had near unanimous, bi-partisan support in the House. This bill will help address the mental health issues that affect everyone in the United States through improvements across sectors. Three of the most powerful components of the bill include criminal justice reforms, improvements in youth mental health care, and support for advances in evidence-based practices—all of which are critical to improved mental health outcomes.
The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis bill places great importance on youth mental health prevention and treatment, specifically in the realm of suicide prevention and early intervention in the treatment of mental illnesses. Given the paucity of evidence-based knowledge of youth mental illnesses, the bill aims to increase study of mental illness development, interventions, and treatment in youth. A core component of the bill aims to address the disturbingly high youth suicide rate. Section 623 of the bill details the continued support for a project with the aim of targeting at-risk children: The National Childhood Traumatic Stress Initiative. Research that improves knowledge regarding mental illness development during childhood can help programs allocate resources more effectively and target at-risk youth with evidence-based preventive measures. Targeting this population is critical in preventing consequences of mental illnesses that can persist throughout the lifespan, such as dropping out of school, falling behind in cognitive and social development, and entering the criminal justice system.
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