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Mental Health America Testifies on Mental Health Bill;

Urges Changes to Legislation

Need Comprehensive Strategy that Responds to Individual Needs,

Delivers Community-Based Services and Peer Supports


Contact: Steve Vetzner, or 703-797-2588

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (April 3, 2014) – David L. Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO of Mental Health America, today told a House subcommittee that proposed mental health legislation includes provisions that would ultimately damage the system and the people it serves.

Dr. Shern testified before the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee on a hearing to discuss the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013.

He told the subcommittee that the legislation contains many laudatory features such as reauthorizing suicide prevention and children’s mental health programs, enhancing support of community-based behavioral health programs, increasing funding for research, promoting integration of care, fostering health information technology, and improving education and criminal justice programs.

“All these steps will undoubtedly improve the infrastructure and programming in mental health,” he said.

“However, there are other aspects of the bill that are of great concern to MHA and many other advocacy organizations. We strongly believe that some aspects of the legislation, while well intended, will ultimately result in damage to the system and the people served by these systems.  While we share the ends sought by the legislation, we differ on several of the means proposed to achieve these ends. The issue is finding an effective balance of interventions, services, and supports.”

Dr. Shern said the bill seeks judicial remedies for challenges that require a comprehensive strategy for people in crisis that delivers community-based services and peer supports, which produces better outcomes.

“What we need is an adequately funded treatment and rehabilitative system in which identified points of system accountability are established for individuals who are most in need of care. One that assertively engages these individuals where they are—both physically and psychologically—and helps them craft a recovery plan that is responsive to their individual needs and circumstances,” he told the panel

“Given the historical patterns of discrimination against persons with mental illnesses, this system must also protect their rights and assure that they have a voice in designing the systems of care to meet their needs.”

In commenting on provisions of the bill that expand use of involuntary treatment (Assisted Outpatient Treatment-AOT), Dr. Shern said an adequate, consumer-focused system of care is what will make a difference in the outcomes experienced by persons with severe mental illness. 

“The best research indicates that it is only when adequate systems of care exist that AOT interventions have shown positive outcomes,” he said. “Additionally, none of the research to date has estimated the number of persons who avoid any contact with the treatment system as a result of the potential coercion.”

Dr. Shern also said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) had been a leader in improving the treatment system.

Responding to proposals in the legislation that would change the way the agency operates, Dr. Shern said:

“Some assert that the agency’s priorities are misguided and resources are not spent effectively.  Further, some feel that the agency promotes a particular agenda that encourages individuals to forgo traditional treatment strategies including medication.  From our perspective, none of these allegations are correct.”

Dr. Shern also argued against the bill’s provision that would dismantle Protection and Advocacy for Individuals With Mental Illness program and said any change to the Medicaid IMD exclusion should wait for the results of a review being conducted through the Affordable Care Act.

He said there needs to be better public education to eliminate confusion regarding federal privacy regulations and urged that people be consulted about and have a meaningful opportunity to oppose any release of their personal medical information.

You can read Dr. Shern’s full testimony from the hearing.

Mental Health America (, founded in 1909, is the nation’s leading community-based network dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. With our 228 affiliates across the country, we touch the lives of millions—Advocating for changes in mental health and wellness policy; Educating the public & providing critical information; and Delivering urgently needed mental health and wellness Programs and Services.