Four Pieces of U.S. Legislation Affecting Your Mental Health (And Why You Should Know About Them)

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How much do you know about the legislation affecting your mental health care?

Admittedly, I never really thought about the topic much myself. But after a pretty traumatic hospitalization, I began to get curious about the laws that perpetuated such a terrible system.

Turns out, there’s a lot of legislation out there governing your mental health (check out all the Mental Health Legislation from the last 10 years here). The problem is, the public doesn’t hear much about it unless you happen to watch a lot of C-SPAN.

Which is kind of a problem…

Why does it matter that we keep track of mental health legislation?

The more you know, the better chance you have at recovery.

Why? Because there’s a serious lack of mental health parity in the United States. This means that the rules of our health care are constantly changing based on the whims of insurance companies, behavioral health systems, and legislators.

It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it is happening. Which is all the more reason to keep track of mental health legislation so you can effectively advocate for yourself.

That’s why we’ve pulled together a list of some of the most landmark legislation affecting us as mental health patients.

Check it out!

Helping Families in Mental Health crisis act of 2013

Even though it was never enacted, this piece of legislation was the start of something big.

Introduced to Congress by former Rep. Tim Murphy (R. PA), the act demanded a sweeping overhaul of the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA oversees the policy making on mental health in the U.S. In 2013, Senator Murphy and others believed that SAMHSA’s priorities needed redirection towards serving the most severely mentally ill Americans.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act created a position of Assistant Secretary of Mental Health to oversee SAMHSA. This was proposed so there would be someone pushing SAMHSA to focus its policy on Severe Mental Illness (SMI)

The act also pushed for the creation of policy based on Evidence Based Practices (EBPS) as well as more funding for Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT, which we’ll dive deeper into in a forthcoming article)

How Does this Legislation Affect you?

It does and it doesn’t. Since the Act of 2013 was never passed it doesn’t actually do anything. However, that doesn’t mean its tenets didn’t have an impact on policy and lawmaking in future Congressional sessions…

21st Century Cures Act of 2016

Case in point: the 2013 Act was resurrected and enacted three years later as part of the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016.

The crazy thing is, the 21st Century Cures Act actually had little to do with mental health at first. It was a bill that pushed for laxer restrictions on pharmaceutical testing and acceleration of medical product development.

However our old chum R. Tim Murphy, a psychologist, came into play. Just days before the legislation was enacted, Rep. Murphy attached his provisions as a rider on the bill. And thus the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 was born.

How does this legislation affect you?

The Cures Act and the HFMHCA of 2016 actually affect your mental health care quite a bit.

First, it has provisions that increase the number of psychiatric beds nationwide. This is great because there is a sore lack of beds set aside in hospitals to treat serious mental health conditions.

Second, it did create the position of Assistant Secretary of Mental Health, forcing SAMHSA to reorganize its priorities.

Third, it strongly promotes evidence based solutions, community programs, and policy. This means that therapies and programs based on CBT, ERP, or DBT principals are prioritized for government funding and support.

And last but not least, the bill promotes funding and further research into Assisted Outpatient Treatment. This keeps the most severely mentally ill patients (i.e. the most vulnerable patients) out of the criminal justice system.

The REsilience Investment Support and Expansion from Trauma (RISE) Act of 2019

Though it’s just been introduced, this bi-partisan legislation is really promising for those who have endured trauma.

The bill itself focuses on Trauma Informed Care, protecting people who are at risk for ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences). By providing funding for TIC training programs, lawmakers hope to expand the reach of evidence based, patient centered care in the mental health field.

How Does this Legislation Affect you?

The RISE Act would provide funding for TIC training in new sectors. This means police, military, border patrol, teachers, administrators, first responders, and a variety of different agencies would be exposed a kinder, gentler way to solve day to day problems.

This is important to you because it can make your interactions with authorities more effective and supportive instead of terrifying.

Mental Health Parity Laws

So this is actually a group of laws as well as a general campaign to create parity in mental health care.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health Mental health parity “describes the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in insurance plans.”

Basically these are the laws making sure insurance companies payout on mental health claims the same way they do for physical health claims.

How does this legislation Affect you?

Before the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008, insurance companies could pay out pretty much whatever they wanted (or didn’t want) on mental health claims.

The MHPAEA changed all that by federally requiring parity. This means insurance companies have to pay out on everything from psychiatric in-patient stays to prescriptions. And they have to pay out on the same level as they would for a medical health claim.

This affects you by granting far greater access to mental health care than has historically been available.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of loop holes in the federal parity laws due to state’s rights, grand-fathered plan exemptions, and complexities that allow companies to flat out thwart the law.

That’s where the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act of 2019 comes into play. Basically it’s a bill that’s been introduced to make “bad actors” comply with the original mandate of the MHPAEA. The passage of this law would provide stricter consequences for not complying with federal parity law.

Wrap Up

So there you have it folks, four laws directly affecting you as a mental health patient.

It’s important to note that these laws are just the tip of the legislative iceberg. I know it can get really confusing to keep track of it all, especially at a time like this. That’s why I’ll definitely be publishing more information like this in the near future so we can all stay informed!

Until then – stay sharp and be your own best advocate <3

Much Love,


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