Mental Health and Addictions Safety Net in Crisis - Plea to Congress to Save Lives

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National mental health association CEO strongly urges congress to re-evaluate funding for substance abuse and mental health organizations and programs.

We can assure you that these new dollars would be employed wisely -- helping those in desperate need and providing essential primary care services to persons with serious mental illness

People with serious mental illnesses suffer shockingly high mortality rates and debilitating co-occurring chronic diseases and many will not live to see their 50th birthday, according to Congressional testimony given March 18th by Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

The testimony was given before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies to discuss FY 2010 appropriations for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Rosenberg cited a December 2006 federal study, which found that people in the U.S. with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die an average of 25 years sooner than other Americans. The high mortality rates are being caused primarily by co-occurring chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and cardiopulmonary conditions.

"Our nation's mental health and addiction treatment systems are chronically underfunded," Rosenberg testified. "The situation is being exacerbated by cuts in state and local funding, even as we are seeing a marked increase in the number of people seeking treatment."

Rosenberg noted that in response to budget shortfalls, states are reducing services, closing programs, and cutting or freezing reimbursement rates for mental healthcare organizations and providers. Access to critical treatment and support services is being reduced while demand is increasing. A National Council survey reported an almost 20% increase in psychiatric intakes across the country.

"Consumers do not magically disappear when funding is cut," said Rosenberg. "Withdrawing community-based supports for some of the most vulnerable people in American society typically results in tragic and costly outcomes -- placements in high-cost state mental hospitals and nursing facilities, homelessness and even incarceration."

Addiction disorders continue to ravage society, said Rosenberg in her testimony. In 2007, only one in 10 Americans with alcohol or drug problems received treatment at a specialty treatment facility, leaving 20.8 million persons untreated. State and local governments fund half of the substance abuse treatment provided in this country -- and the current economic downturn is resulting in reductions in substance abuse prevention and treatment services across the nation.

Rosenberg thanked Congress for the recent passage of legislation awarding $7 million in new SAMHSA funding to co-locate primary care capacity in community mental health organizations and asked for additional 2010 federal support for mental health and addictions services in the form of:

  • A $35 million increase to expand primary care within behavioral health organizations.
  • A $100 million increase for the SAMHSA's Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.
  • A $150 million increase to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.

"We can assure you that these new dollars would be employed wisely -- helping those in desperate need and providing essential primary care services to persons with serious mental illness," Rosenberg concluded.

The full written testimony is available at

About The National Council:
The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit, 501(c) (3) association of 1,600 behavioral healthcare organizations that provide treatment and rehabilitation for mental illnesses and addictions disorders to nearly six million adults, children and families in communities across the country. The National Council and its members bear testimony to the fact that medical, social, psychological and rehabilitation services offered in community settings help people with mental illnesses and addictions disorders recover and lead productive lives. Learn more at


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