AMHCA Makes Recommendations to VP Biden's Task Force on Gun Violence; President Obama's Plan Includes Mental Health Issues
By Kathleen McCarthy
Headed by Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s task force on gun violence met throughout December and January, while soliciting input from a wide range of constituencies before submitting its policy proposals to President Obama on Jan. 15.
Obama formed the task force in December, five days after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
AMHCA added its voice to the discussion by sending a letter to Biden on Jan. 9, noting that, “while we don’t yet know the nature and extent to which
We are going
to need to work
on making access
to mental healthcare
as easy as
access to a gun.”
"Now Is the Time"
Jan. 16, 2013
mental illness contributed to events in Newtown, we believe mental illness will be a key part of the explanation, as it was with other mass shootings, including the massacres at Virginia Tech, in Tucson when Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot, and at the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting.”
Signed by AMHCA President Karen Langer, LMHC, and AMHCA Executive Director & CEO W. Mark Hamilton, PhD, AMHCA’s letter urged the task force to issue recommendations that address four key mental-health-related areas:
- Immediately double the capacity of public mental health and substance abuse programs.
- Fully implement the Affordable Care Act, particularly the provisions for mental health and substance abuse parity.
- Immediately implement school and community-based programs to promote mental health, to prevent mental illness and substance abuse, and to provide early interventions for those exhibiting these conditions.
- Immediately begin teaching students and the broader public at all levels to recognize the signs of mental illness and addiction, and to seek help when needed.
“As mental health professionals, AMHCA members know firsthand the tragedies of mental illness and addiction, and that recoveries are possible,” the letter said.
Based on the task force recommendations, President Obama announced on Jan. 16 his plan for reducing gun violence, which combines executive actions and calls for legislative action that would help keep guns out of the wrong hands, ban assault and high-capacity magazines, make schools safer, and increase access to mental health services.
“Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. We have a strong tradition of gun ownership in this country, and the vast majority of gun owners act responsibly,” the president said on Jan. 18 in his weekly address.
“But I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from causing harm on a massive scale. That’s what these reforms are designed to do.”
The president’s proposals seek to, among other things, end the freeze on gun violence research, which Congress has barred for years by taking the position that research on firearm-related homicides and suicides is synonymous with advocating or promoting gun control.
Improving Mental Health Services
The section of the new proposals on “Improving Mental Health Services” opens with President Obama’s observation that, “We are going to need to
work on making access to mental healthcare as easy as access to a gun.”
The mental health services section goes on to say, “We need to do more than just keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness; we need to identify mental health issues early and help individuals get the treatment they need before these dangerous situations develop.”
This section of the plan includes two main proposals:
1) Making sure students and young adults get treatment for mental health issues
“Three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. And several recent mass shootings, including those at Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, were perpetrated by students or other young people,” the report says.
This goal is to be attained by:
- Reaching 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment:
- Providing “Mental Health First Aid” training for teachers
- Making sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment
- Supporting individuals ages 16 to 25 at high risk for mental illness;
- Helping schools address pervasive violence;
- Training more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults; and
- Launching a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health.
2) Ensuring coverage of mental health treatment
“While most mental illnesses are treatable, those with mental illness often can’t get needed treatment if they don’t have health insurance that covers mental health services. The Affordable Care Act will provide one of the largest expansions of mental health coverage in a generation by extending health coverage to 30 million Americans, including an estimated 6 million to 10 million people with mental illness.
“The Affordable Care Act will also make sure that Americans can get the mental health treatment they need by ensuring that insurance plans cover mental health benefits at parity with other benefits,” according to the report.
This goal is to be attained by:
- Finalizing requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services; and
- Making sure millions of Americans covered by Medicaid get quality mental health coverage.