Briefing Weighs NIMH Budget

Social workers make up the majority of mental health providers in the U.S.

Americans, regardless of age, deserve quality mental health care services, said U.S. Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns, D-N.Y.

In an effort to support that pledge, Towns and the newly formed Congressional Social Work Caucus hosted a Capitol Hill briefing in May: “Prevention, Treatment and Services Research Funding in the National Institute of Mental Health Budget.”

“The mental well-being of our residents in our country is important to me and to social workers,” Towns said at the briefing. “We must invest in social work to serve the mental health needs of our citizens and we need adequate funding.”

The caucus has grown to 35 members since its formation in March and now includes its first Republican members, Rep. Todd Platts from Pennsylvania and Rep. Darrell Issa from California.

Towns said the caucus will play an important role in protecting the safety net that serves the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

“I am thrilled that we now have a platform in Congress to air our issues and concerns,” he said.

Among the presenters at the briefing were two representatives of the NIMH’s Division of Services and Intervention Research: Robert Heinssen, director, and Denise Juliano-Bult, program specialist.

Heinssen said that in 2006, the direct cost of mental health services in the U.S. totaled $57.5 billion. He explained the number of people who receive treatment for mental health disorders has been frustratingly low.

For example, he said experts estimate 60 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of mental disorder; 17 million of them can be labeled as “severe.” Of that number, however, less than half receive services. Of those who receive services, less than half garner minimally acceptable care.

“Denial is a huge part of the disorder,” Heinssen explained. The director said the NIMH, in an effort to address the challenge of broadening treatment for those who need it most, introduced a strategic plan in 2008:

  • Research brain and behavioral sciences to fuel research on the causes of mental disorders.
  • Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where and how to intervene.
  • Develop new and better interventions that incorporate the diverse needs to circumstances of people with mental illness.
  • Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH supported research.

The latest goals for the department include additional research that addresses decreasing mortality associated with serious mental illness and increasing widespread use of evidence-based practices, access to services and quality improvement methods.

“Our agenda includes interventions that prove effective,” Heinssen said.

Panelist Stephen Baron, director of the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, explained how his department benefits from mental health research and how important it is to continue funding efforts for NIMH.

Enola Proctor, professor and associate dean at George Warren Brown School of Social Work, also was on the panel.

She said social workers make up the majority of mental health providers in the U.S. “We provide mental health services in many settings, especially those that are publicly funded,” she explained.

Proctor said mental health care in the U.S. is in urgent need of attention due to more veterans returning from war, a rise in natural disasters and continued high unemployment ratings.

She noted that for severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, 95 percent of these clients receive no care or poor care. Racial disparities in care also continue.

What needs to be addressed, she said, are better ways to bridge research into practice. Research needs to also include ways to improve access, reduce disparities and move new discoveries of care into real-world settings.

“What we need now is more mental health research on improving systems of care,” Proctor explained. “We need to improve access to services and reduce disparities and reduce staff turnover.”

She added, “We’re falling behind meeting our nation’s mental health needs. ... I want to urge the highest possible levels of support for research at NIMH.”

Towns said he would relay the comments and suggestions at the briefing to other members of Congress.

“I will work with you any way I can,” Towns told the panel members. “I will encourage more funding (at NIMH).”

He said it is more cost effective to society to prevent and treat mental health disorders than it is to ignore the issue.