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5 Things the New Mental Health Bill Could Mean for Your Health

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Major changes in the mental health care system may soon be coming, thanks to the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which passed almost unanimously (422-2) last week in the House of Representatives. The legislation, considered the most comprehensive reform in decades, could be a game changer for the more than 68 million Americans (that's more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population) who have experienced a psychiatric or substance use disorder in the past year, not to mention the more than 43 million Americans who dealt with some kind of mental illness in 2014.

"This historic vote closes a tragic chapter in our nation's treatment of serious mental illness and welcomes a new dawn of help and hope," said Congressman Tim Murphy, a licensed child psychologist, who first introduced the bill in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. "We are ending the era of stigma. Mental illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail. No longer will we discharge the mentally ill out of the emergency room to the family and say 'Good luck, take care of your loved one, we've done all the law will allow.' Today the House voted to deliver treatment before tragedy," he continued in a news release. (See how women are fighting the mental health stigma.)

Following the House approval, Senators Chris Murphy and Bill Cassidy urged the Senate to vote on their similar bill, the Mental Health Reform Act, which already passed in the Senate health committee in March. They argued in a joint statement that the House Bill "isn't perfect, but the fact that it passed overwhelmingly is proof that there's broad, bipartisan support for fixing our broken mental health system."

The APA applauded the House for passing the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and has called upon the Senate to approve the legislation by the end of the year. "Comprehensive mental health reform is urgently needed in our country, and this bipartisan legislation helps address this critical need," said APA President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D. in a statement.

While we'll need to wait to see how this shakes out in the legal system and what final piece of mental health legislation will pass, here are five major mental health improvements the newly passed House bill offers up.

1. More hospital beds

The bill would address the shortage of 100,000 psychiatric beds in the U.S. so that those dealing with a mental health crisis can receive short-term hospitalization immediately, without wait times.

2. A psychiatrist or psychologist-led federal position

A new federal position, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, would be created to run the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which coordinates federal mental health programs to hep improve the quality and availability of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitative services. Most importantly, this new officer would be required to have a doctoral degree in medicine or psychology with crucial clinical and research experience.

3. Additional (crucial!) research

The newly appointed officer would be tasked with creating a National Mental Health Policy Laboratory to track mental health stats and identify the most effective treatment methods. The bill also calls for funding for the brain initiative at the National Institute of Mental Health to help conduct studies directed at reducing suicide and violence from those suffering from mental illlness—which many see as crucial when it comes to ending the cycle of mass shootings.

4. Affordable mental health care for all

The bill authorizes $450 million in funding to states to serve adults as well as children with serious mental illnesses. States would be able to apply for grants to help run local mental health clinics that offer evidence-based treatment to those in need, regardless of their ability to pay. Part of the bill also amends Medicaid, requiring coverage for short-term stays at mental health facilities.

5. Updated privacy laws to allow for 'compassionate communication'

This part of the bill calls for federal HIPAA laws (which establish privacy rules for personal health information) to be clarified so that parents and caregivers can obtain crucial information about their mentally ill child's health when they're over 18. The reinterpretation would allow diagnoses, treatment plans, and information about medications to be shared when the patient can't make decisions on their own.

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