Committee Releases Report Following Yearlong Investigation of Federal Programs Addressing Severe Mental Illness

May 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Committee today released a report regarding its investigation of federal programs that address severe mental illness (SMI). Since January 2013, following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and against the backdrop of subsequent mass killings tied to untreated SMI at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, the committee has reviewed mental health resources and programs across the federal spectrum. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), a practicing psychologist, has also held a number of public forums and hearings on the subject.

To address the shortfalls in treatment of severe mental illness, Murphy introduced H.R. 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, in December 2013. Two major portions of this bill have already become law as part of H.R. 4302, the Protecting Access to Medicare Act.

The report explains, “The Committee’s probe has focused on three areas of critical public policy interest: (1) the scope of society’s problem that is untreated SMI, (2) how privacy laws may interfere with patient care and public safety, including in mental health situations, and (3) how federal resources appropriated for research into and treatment of mental illness are presently being spent.”

A bipartisan Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee public forum in March 2013 highlighted how “neither access to health insurance, nor the financial ability to seek help guarantee success in navigating the mental health system.” The investigation also revealed concerns with existing privacy laws. The report notes that, “Therefore, it may be worthwhile to explore establishing lower barriers for families who, in good faith, seek information about a family member with SMI to protect their health or safety, particularly where that individual is unable to fully understand or lacks judgment to make an informed decision regarding their need for treatment, care, or supervision.”

Upon release of the report Murphy commented, “Our investigative work revealed that those most in need of treatment — patients with serious mental illnesses such as persistent schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression — are the least likely to get the acute medical help they desperately need. We revealed significant gaps in inpatient and outpatient care, confusing and outdated legal barriers to treatment, and outright failures in the current mental health system. The good news for millions of families confronting a mental health crisis is that our investigative work has charted a legislative path to rebuild the system and to finally take serious mental illness out of the shadows and into the bright light of hope and recovery.”

The report concludes, “The committee’s inquiry has drawn attention to the importance of targeting funds for mental health to areas with the greatest impacts on public health and safety. … The findings of the committee’s investigation underscore the need to improve training for law enforcement and emergency medical services personnel on mental health issues. They also demonstrate the importance of training primary care physicians in mental healthcare… while working toward a better integration of psychiatric and primary care…”

Read the complete report online here.

To read a letter from the Office and Management and Budget detailing federal spending on mental health, click here.