Mental Health Reform

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The United States is facing a severe mental health crisis, which is having a devastating effect on our communities. Mental health issues affect our economy, our national security, our health care system and our individual rights (like the 2nd Amendment). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) one in five adults (43.8 million Americans) will experience mental illness in a given year. Further – one in twenty-five (10 million Americans) will experience a severe mental health issue, which severely hinders their major life activities. 

An estimated 46% of homeless Americans living in shelters suffer from severe mental health illnesses and substance abuse problems. 50.8% of children aged 8-15 are reported to have received mental health treatment in 2015 while only 41% of adults in the U.S with mental health issues received treatment. Around 20% of inmates in local jail systems suffer from mental health illness. And perhaps one of the most troubling statistics is that African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are reported to have received mental health treatment at a rate of roughly one half compared to Caucasian-Americans, which is largely due to lack of access in our inner cities.

Mental illness has a devastating affect on the U.S economy – costing an average of $193.2 billion in earnings per year. These illnesses also cause tremendous strain on our health care system with the average life span of adults struggling with these issues being shortened by 25 years. More than 90% of children who commit suicide have a mental health disorder and suicide is the second highest cause of death among individuals aged 15-24. And sadly an estimated 18-22 veterans commit suicide everyday due to mental illness. 

How Do We Combat Mental Illness 

As the Sheriff of Henrico County, mental illness is an issue that I deal with on a daily basis. Sadly, federal and state elected officials continue to kick the can down the road rather than deal with the problem. This often results in those suffering not getting the help they desperately need before they end up in trouble or in jail. 

The single greatest example of this inaction that I have witnessed came from then Governor Tim Kaine. Shortly after taking office as Governor, Senator Kaine hosted a mental health task force meeting with law enforcement and mental health leaders from across the Commonwealth. After bringing us together for the meeting - the very first thing he said was: “we will not be building any new mental health beds to deal with this problem.” Sadly this is the type of leadership we have consistently witnessed from Democrats – and sadly many Republicans – on this critical issue. 

I firmly believe that we need added investment on the front end in order to tackle the problem. We are doing our communities a great disservice if we wait until these individuals end up in trouble before we get them treatment. This is going to require funding to add additional mental health beds and treatment centers and a partnering with private organizations and charities to ensure every individual in our communities have access to the care they need. Many of the shootings we have witnessed in recent years – like the tragic events surrounding Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds’ son - could have been prevented had we taken this issue seriously and made the investment – how much longer are we going to wait? 

We also need to reform the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). As the law currently stands – once an individual reaches the age of 18 – they get to determine whether family members are allowed to be part of their treatment. This often leaves families unable to talk to the medical professionals overseeing the treatment and leaves them unable to help their loved ones. I will fight to change this law – allowing families to take a greater role in finding help for their loved ones. 

We also need to partner with private organizations and increase funding for emergency respite care and residential services. There are various methods of providing emergency care for those suffering from a severe mental health crisis. Family-based crisis home support programs place those needing help in trained homes where the families are specially trained to help counsel and monitor their treatment. Crisis Stabilization Units provide temporary housing for those in need who aren’t in a stable enough condition to receive care in an emergency room. Extended Observation Units are used for those in need of observation, but without the full constraints that come with hospitalization. And lastly there are mental health hospitals where those in need are under constant supervision while they deal with and overcome their problem. Sadly, all of these methods are severely underfunded and under-staffed. This must change in order to effectively combat the problem.

Conclusion 

Almost every person in our community has a friend or loved one who has experienced the devastating effects of mental illness. These problems affect our economy, national security, law enforcement, health care costs and individual rights like our 2nd Amendment (which is used as a scapegoat to ignore the underlying issues). 

Our current leaders in Washington and Richmond – my opponent in this race included – have done nothing to address this issue. Rather than find solutions to get help for those in need – they kick the can down the road and pass the responsibility down onto local police and Sheriff’s offices. That isn’t leadership and 4th District families – and our nation as a whole - deserve better. As Sheriff I have found commonsense solutions on a daily basis, and that is how I will lead as the 4th District’s next Congressman.