It’s a shame that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary. Her mental health plan demonstrated the triumph of science and compassion over political correctness and wishful thinking. If adopted it could improve the quality of life for the seriously mentally ill and the communities in which they live. The remaining candidates and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) should include Harris’s proposals in their 2020 platforms.
In spite of the federal government spending $150 billion to address mental health, rising numbers of mentally ill people are going homeless and being incarcerated. This is largely because of a multi-year trend: Parts of the mental health industry convinced legislators to move spending away from hospitals and programs that serve the most seriously mentally ill and fund instead soft programs designed to improve “mental wellness” in the masses.
California and New York City have massively increased mental health spending. But because they fail to focus the spending on the seriously ill, both are experiencing increases in homelessness and incarcerations. The resultant community outrage is making the siting of facilities more difficult, further compounding the problem.
Harris’s plan — and that of former candidate, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — included the four most important reforms the federal government can make to help the most seriously mentally ill. They are expanding the number of psychiatric hospital beds, reducing the use of involuntary inpatient commitment by supporting outpatient versions, freeing families of HIPAA handcuffs, and evaluating programs based on the most important outcomes. Those same reforms seem to be supported by President Trump, meaning they perhaps could become law.
DJ Jaffe is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institue, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.
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