Government Report Finds Serious Mental Illness Neglected by SAMHSA and Other Federal Agencies

Share Article

"The needs of society’s most vulnerable citizens are not being addressed by the federal agencies charged with meeting those needs," said the Treatment Advocacy Center in response to the report.

Echoing years of Treatment Advocacy Center criticism, the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Thursday issued a devastating, 61-page report that found little evidence the federal agency charged with coordinating mental health programs is serving people with the most severe mental illness.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was specifically singled out for failing to serve people whose welfare they are charged with serving. The GAO report said SAMHSA “has shown little leadership in coordinating federal efforts on behalf of those with serious mental illness.”

“Although SAMHSA is charged with promoting coordination across the federal government regarding mental illness, its efforts to lead coordination – specifically on serious mental illness – across agencies have been lacking,” concluded the report delivered to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Among the problems identified in the report:

  •     The GAO identified 112 programs spread across eight federal agencies with combined budgets of $5.7 billion in 2013 that might support individuals with serious mental illness but only 30 targeted specifically for this population.
  •     Of the 30 targeted programs, fewer than half had been evaluated or were scheduled to be evaluated. As an example, a multi-agency committee established to improve coordination for such programs has not met since 2009.
  •     Few agencies were found to be tracking their programs for serious mental illness, and many were unable to say how much money was actually being spent for the target population or if individuals were actually participating in such programs.

“This is a stunning independent validation of what we been saying for years: The people who need help the most are being neglected by the federal agency responsible for ensuring they get help,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. The GAO found that of the 30 programs specifically targeted for individuals with a severe mental illness, most of those were in agencies like the Veterans Administration and Department of Justice, whose missions don’t include mental health.

The report was prepared in response to a bipartisan request from subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO). Subcommittee members heard testimony at a series of hearings exposing a systematic pattern of focusing federal dollars elsewhere than on those with the profound psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. This population, estimated at 10 million by the GAO to include individuals with severe depression, is at significantly greater risk for homelessness, arrest and incarceration, suicide, homicide and a number of other negative results when they do not receive treatment.

“The Oversight subcommittee wanted to know whether the needs of society’s most vulnerable citizens were being addressed by the federal agencies charged with meeting those needs, especially SAMHSA,” said Fuller. “The GAO found they are not.”

Rep. Murphy introduced in 2013 the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” to address the deficiencies exposed by the subcommittee investigation.

The report was released February 5, 2015.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jamie Mondics
Treatment Advocacy Center
+1 (703) 294-6003
Email >
Visit website