Alexander: Committee Plans to “Move Promptly” to Offer Bipartisan Recommendations to Address America’s Mental Health Crisis

Says mental health conditions affect about 1 in 5 American adults – and nearly 60 percent do not receive the mental health services they need

Posted on January 20, 2016

 WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 20 – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said the Senate health committee plans to “move promptly” to offer bipartisan recommendations to help address the mental health crisis affecting about one in five American adults.

“A 2014 national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that … 9.8 million adults had serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression that interferes with a major life activity,” Alexander said. “However, nearly 60 percent of adults with mental illness did not receive mental health services in 2014.”

He continued, “Mental health conditions that remain untreated can lead to dropping out of school, substance abuse, incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and 90 percent of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.”

“The committee has done a great deal of work on this subject,” he said. “On September 30, 2015, this committee passed S. 1893, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2015, introduced by Senator Murray and myself. This bill, cosponsored by many members of the committee, reauthorizes and improves programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions. The Senate passed this important piece of legislation on December 18, 2015.

“Senators Cassidy and Murphy have introduced legislation, and Sen. Murray and I have been working with them. We hope to move promptly to bring recommendations before the full committee. Not everything the Senate may want to do is within the jurisdiction of this committee. We’re working with Sen. Blunt, who is the chairman of the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee, on ideas that he’s proposed—as well as with Sen. Cornyn on issues that the Judiciary Committee is considering and the Senate Finance Committee, which will also be involved. 

“Today, I look forward to hearing from the doctors, nurses, advocates and administrators who work every day with Americans who struggle with a mental health condition about how the federal government can help patients, health care providers, communities, and states to better address mental health issues.”

The chairman’s full prepared remarks for today’s hearing are below:

Before we begin today’s hearing, I want to briefly mention for the information of committee members one of the next items on the committee’s agenda, and that’s biomedical innovation.

I was glad to announce yesterday our committee’s plans to hold its first markup on Feb. 9 to consider the first set of bipartisan bills aimed at spurring biomedical innovation for American patients.

Senators and staff on our committee have been working throughout 2015 to produce a number of bipartisan pieces of legislation that are ready for the full committee to consider.

The House has completed its work with its 21st Century Cures Act. The president announced his support for a precision medicine initiative and a cancer “moonshot.” It is urgent that the Senate finish its work and turn into law these ideas that will help virtually every American.

The committee has also been working for months on legislation to help achieve interoperability of electronic health records for doctors, hospitals and their patients—and the committee will be releasing a bipartisan staff draft of that legislation later today for public comment.

This February markup will be the first of three committee meetings that we have planned to debate and amend bills as the committee moves forward on the bipartisan goal of modernizing the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to get safe, cutting-edge drugs and devices to patients more quickly.

Last week, in his State of the Union address, the president reiterated his support for a Precision Medicine Initiative and announced the administration’s cancer “moonshot” initiative  – and I look forward to working with the president and Vice President Biden.

In addition, this year the committee intends to be busy on oversight of the Every Student Succeeds Act. A law that’s not implemented appropriately is not worth the paper it’s printed on, and we will plan a series of hearings this year to make sure that it’s implemented the way Congress wrote it and the president signed it.

And, of course, we’ve done a great deal of work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which expired at the end of last year. We have a number of bipartisan proposals that will make it easier and simpler for students to attend college and for administrators to operate our 6,000 colleges and universities. 

But, another priority of the committee is legislation dealing with the mental health crisis in America, which we are discussing today.

The committee has done a great deal of work on this subject.

On September 30, 2015, this committee passed S. 1893, Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2015, introduced by Senator Murray and myself.

This bill, cosponsored by many members of the committee, reauthorizes and improves programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions.

The Senate passed this important piece of legislation on December 18, 2015.

Senators Cassidy and Murphy have introduced legislation, and Sen. Murray and I have been working with them. We hope to move promptly to bring recommendations before the full committee.

Not everything the Senate may want to do is within the jurisdiction of this committee. We’re working with Sen. Blunt, who is the chairman of the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee, on ideas that he’s proposed—as well as with Sen. Cornyn on issues that the Judiciary Committee is considering  and the Senate Finance Committee, which will also be involved. 

Here is why there is such interest in the United States Senate in the mental health crisis in America today:

A 2014 national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that about 1 in 5 adults had a mental health condition in the past year, and 9.8 million adults had serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression that interferes with a major life activity.

However, nearly 60 percent of adults with mental illness did not receive mental health services in 2014.

Only about half of adolescents with a mental health condition received treatment for their mental health condition.

Mental health conditions that remain untreated can lead to dropping out of school, substance abuse, incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and 90 percent of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.

I hear from many Tennesseans about the challenges faced by individuals and families living with mental illness.

From 2010 to 2012, nearly 21 percent of adults in Tennessee reported having a mental illness – that’s more than a million people—according to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

About 4 percent had a serious mental illness – that’s nearly a quarter of a million Tennesseans.

According to a 2015 report from the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, the most recent data available shows Tennessee’s rate of suicide reached its highest level in five years in 2013. 

Also in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death for Tennesseans between the ages of 15 and 34.

Scott Ridgway, head of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, last year stated that suicide “remains a major public health threat in the state of Tennessee.”

At our October hearing on mental health, this committee heard from administration witnesses about what the federal government is already doing to address mental illness.

Today, I look forward to hearing from the doctors, nurses, advocates and administrators who work every day with Americans who struggle with a mental health condition about how the federal government can help patients, health care providers, communities, and states to better address mental health issues. 

One way is to ensure that the latest and most innovative research findings get translated into practice and can change the lives of individuals and families across the United States.

For example, at our earlier hearing, the National Institute of Mental Health’s then-director, Dr. Tom Insel, discussed the Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode, or RAISE study.

The study found that identifying and treating psychosis early with a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan can significantly improve an individual’s quality of life.

Many states have begun implementing treatment programs based on this model – and it was called a “game changer” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

I am interested to hear from our witnesses how the federal government can support state efforts to implement innovative and evidence-based treatment programs – as well as their thoughts to help ensure that Washington is not getting in the way.

Strengthening our mental health care system will require modernizing the leading agency for mental health. It will also require involvement from patients, families, communities, health care providers, health departments, law enforcement, state partners, and others. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses here today about the challenges we face and the solutions they believe are needed to address them head on.

 

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