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Will Obama’s Newtown Plan Fix Mental Healthcare? Don’t Believe The Hype

obama gun control planAfter Newtown, the whole world wanted action. We must do something to stop the violence, to stop the misuse of guns, and to fix the mental health support system in this country.

Today, President Obama announced his plan. “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.

I took a look at the plan in detail. One of the mental health initiatives is to identify mental illness in young people early, partially by training teachers, and to screen students and make appropriate referrals to treatment. They’re setting aside $15 million dollars to do the training, and $40 million to get school districts, law enforcement officials and mental health services to work together to make sure the kids who do need help get it.

This is particularly fascinating to me, given the work I and many women’s mental health advocates have done to try and convince the federal government to require universal screening for postpartum depression, an illness suffered by nearly 1 million women in the US each year. They won’t do it. They won’t even agree to do a basic national awareness campaign.

Do you know why? Because, they told me, if we promote awareness of postpartum depression and screen all women, what happens next? We don’t have a system for taking care of the ones who are identified as needing help. Obstetricians and pediatricians won’t know to whom to refer these moms. There aren’t enough psychiatrists and psychologists. There aren’t enough people who know what to do. That is what I was told, face-to-face, by members of President Obama’s administration, including the Department of Health and Human Services. (And I’m not beating up on the President here, because it’s just as likely other administrations would have said the same.)

Let me repeat: We don’t have the right kind of integrated systems in place, so we’re not going to do anything.

I was sure they would, when, in 2010, a bill called the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act was passed, as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act. I believed the hype. I was thrilled. We were doing something! It was going to get fixed! Huzzah! I went to the Capitol and stood there on the lawn at a special ceremony celebrating the law’s passage. Three years later, nothing has happened. Just ask Carol Blocker, Melanie’s mother, who recently told the Chicago Tribune how disappointed she is in the lack of any progress.

As part of the Melanie Blocker Stokes Act, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to lead discussions and come up with a plan to help the hundreds of thousands of mothers who suffer, but she hasn’t. Not in the least. There was no money appropriated. There have been no national discussions. There are no new services. And the awareness campaign has thus far been nixed. Sound familiar? Today’s Newtown plan states, “The President is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders.” 

I know how this goes. This ain’t my first rodeo. Just don’t get all excited and comfortable that something is going to happen to truly fix what’s wrong with our mental healthcare system in this country. I don’t have much confidence in that, sorry to say.

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