Alexander: Early Intervention in Mental Health is Critical

Posted on December 13, 2017

“Sean is one person out of nearly 10 million in the United States with a serious mental health condition. Without treatment, his story could have had a very different outcome… Over the past few years, this Committee has worked in a bipartisan way to update parts of the federal mental health system for the first time in over a decade… I look forward to hearing about the progress being made to ensure more people can receive the help they need and have positive outcomes like Sean.”

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2017 — At today’s oversight hearing on the mental health provisions in 21st Century Cures, Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that early intervention for patients with mental health disorders is critical. 

“Sean Lester is, by all accounts, a typical, Nashville young adult with a full-time job who also attends college,” Alexander said. “However, just before his 25th birthday, he experienced his first schizophrenic experience and has spent ten weeks receiving psychiatric treatment since 2014. Sean wrote me, saying, “This may seem slightly depressing, but my story does not end there. The doctors and staff I encountered at the hospital and at the Centerstone clinic taught me to live productively again in society. I have been free of the hospital for a whole year now. During that time, I have taken medication, returned to work, and even paid off a car! I am currently enrolled at Tennessee State University as a Junior pursuing a degree in Psychology.’”

Alexander continued: “Sean is one person out of nearly 10 million in the United States with a serious mental health condition. Without treatment, his story could have had a very different outcome. Over the past few years, this Committee has worked in a bipartisan way to update parts of the federal mental health system – including programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – for the first time in over a decade.”

Today’s hearing is the third oversight hearing on the 21st Century Cures Act, which included provisions from the Mental Health Reform Act that passed the committee on March 16, 2016 and updated programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) for the first time in a decade. Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, a position created in Cures, has new authorities through Cures to work with states and federal agencies and to help more Americans receive the treatment they need.

“Most of the services, treatment, and care for people with mental health issues is provided by the private sector, like Vanderbilt, or through programs run by the states. The federal government plays a role through Medicaid and SAMHSA, which provided Tennessee with over $80 million grants last year.”

“Prior to our work on Cures, the coordination between federal agencies that provide mental health care was not as effective as it could have been. I hope today we will learn how implementation of these provisions is going. For example, how has coordination improved between federal agencies on the best ways to assist those with mental illness? We hoped that promising research into early intervention programs at the National Institutes of Health would translate into clinical applications for patients… I look forward to hearing about the progress being made to ensure more people can receive the help they need and have positive outcomes like Sean.”

Here are Senator Alexander’s prepared remarks.